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Get your freak on at Finland’s wackiest championships

Finland loves sports, and it loves fun.

While Covid-19 has hindered a lot of travel plans, we hope our travel content can continue to provide you with inspiration for your future journeys—so when this does pass, you’ll be ready to get back out into the world.

Last year, its soccer team qualified for a first-ever major championship, while the country punches above its weight at the Olympics, wedged between the Netherlands and Japan in the overall medal table. But the Finns excel like no other when it comes to mixing fun and exercise together (it is possible).

The country is famed for its unusual sports – from outdoor skittles to bizarre events such as mobile-phone tossing, mosquito-swatting and swamp soccer. Inventive to say the least.

In 2019, it hosted its first heavy-metal knitting contest (yes, you read that right) to great acclaim, and competitors have until March this year to sign up for 2020. If your knitting technique isn’t quite up to scratch, we can suggest a few other sports to consider – just bear in mind that they’re all bonkers.

Heavy Metal Knitting

With over 50 heavy metal bands per 100,000 people, Finland is about as natural a home as you could ask for, if seeking a sport that mixes the music genre with, well, knitting.

The brainchild of a radio conversation about the possibility of knitting behind your back with your eyes closed, like a guitarist shredding, 12 contestants from eight nations took part at the inaugural event in 2019.

Contestant Nathalie Cortada describes the experience as, “Nerve racking, a hoot and a huge load of fun! It was over much too soon and I can’t wait to go back, to compete, help out or just watch and enjoy. By the evening #heavymetalknitting was trending and our videos were going viral, which made it all even more surreal and enjoyable.”

Sounds like a blast – of music and merriment, but most importantly, wool.

Air guitar championships

The annual Air Guitar Championships has one simple goal: to promote world peace.

And if playing air guitar doesn’t sound like an obvious way to promote global harmony, just imagine how much easier those UN peace talks would go down if everybody was air-picking along to ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

What we mean is that the championships are open to all, with previous winners including Germany’s The Devil’s Niece, Japan’s Dainoji and many more.

Having been around since 1996, the competition is so popular that entry to the summer event begins with qualification rounds during the winter, so keep an eye out for those entry dates.

Previous competitor Adam Colcough describes the experience as “Completely unforgettable. I met amazing people and [had] a full week of madness enjoying a new country. I got to act like a complete madman on stage and discover the love and happiness air guitar brings to the world.”

Wife carrying

Does the notion of carrying your wife in a competitive manner appeal to you? Yes? In that case the town of Sonkajärvi is the place for you.

Participating couples take on an obstacle course, via piggyback, a romantic over-the-shoulder method or Estonian-style – a method of wife-transport that involves herself there upside-down on the husband’s back, legs over the neck and shoulders. The track is 255.3 metres long, with two dry obstacles and one water obstacle, and the winners are the ones that complete it the fastest. It’s bonding experience, to say the least.

Estonia and Finland have historically dominated the competition, but in recent years Lithuania and Russia have also wife-carried to a winning degree. As for the origins of this bizarre event, one of its organisers, Sanna-Mari Nuutinen, tells us more:

“The race is based on a local story about a band of robbers living in Sonkajärvi area in the 1900s. They went around the area robbing food, supplies and women from the neighbouring villages. To be taken into this band of robbers, you had to be able to run fast while carrying heavy loads on your shoulders over the radius of a musket bullet, which is now the length of the track.”

Exercise, fun and history, all in one marital package. Nice.

Halloween Run

Obviously, Finland isn’t the only place in the world to celebrate Halloween, but we felt the need to include Helsinki’s annual Halloween Run due to the sheer panache and class with which the Finns approach running in costume.

With five- and 10-kilometre-long races, this could easily be mistaken for a hard-hitting competition, but as ever, fun is the priority. “Last year a primary school class participated with matching unicorn-costumes and we had a dinosaur, skeletons, a banana, cats, policemen, supermen and escapees on the route,” says the event’s organiser Rosa Kankaanpää.

Seems like a pretty decent way to brighten up a cold October night.

Winter Swimming

To cap it off, we bring you winter swimming, which will make your blood run cold in the best way possible. Popular throughout the country and Nordic region, it’s a particularly easy activity to dip your toes (plus head, shoulders, knees and toes) into while visiting Finland, whether in the Arctic north or the capital Helsinki. The Allas Sea Pool runs winter swimming classes until March, later still if the water stays below a nippy 4°C.

And just to make things that little bit more refreshing, the good people of Allas Swimming Pool encourage some light indulgence post-dip. “After a refreshing swim in our pools, it’s time to relax,” says the pool’s own Maia Söderlund. “Swimming plus a glass of bubbly is a combined ticket, allowing you to enter our pools and saunas and enjoy a glass of sparkling wine afterwards.”

Baltic bubbles. Nice.