This is for all of us who bemoaned the late arrival of winter swell. Who’ve driven to the beach and gone home dry because it was onshore, or too small, or too messy. This is for those who couldn’t be arsed to get off the couch, because the forecast looked miff, or snuggled deep into their duvet to avoid the chilly dawn. It’s also a good lesson for those who live in London, but couldn’t be bothered to head to the coast because it doesn’t match the candy land you grew up surfing. There may even be a few Joburgers, or guys who live just a few hours inland who need to take heed. For all our big wave heroics, our slab chasing and our shark dodging, we should note that we may not be as tough, or as dedicated as Finnish surfers.
I didn’t visit Finland to surf. I don’t think anyone does. I met up with Kalle Carranza, a Mexican-Finn and former Reef team rider who came here for a degree. What this country may lack in waves, it makes up for in world class education – so it’s not just the hemisphere that makes it the polar opposite of our dear Mzanzi. So, in hanging up his board shorts to pick up some knowledge, Kalle was surprised to learn that there’s a small surf scene here, even if it bears no semblance to his home town of Puerto Vallarta
Make no mistake, it’s crap at best. “But, if there’s a wave that you can maybe stand on – you go. It’s fickle and the available windows are small, so we often get skunked. So if there’s something to ride, you’re sure to be on it.” This puts the ‘worth it’ bar a lot lower, but shows a level of stoke we can’t even relate to.
It’s bloody cold. A 6/5/4 mm suit is standard for the normal spring and autumn season. In a rare summer session, they can get away with a 3/2mm, if there’s one lying around. But, that’s just the water temperature. It’s usually single digits. But, in mid-winter, the ice at some of the surf spots is so thick you can drive a car on it. Talk about driving to the line-up.
A poor joke aside, access is notoriously difficult, and local knowledge is fiercely guarded. “But, seriously, most of the secret spots I’ve been to, I wouldn’t be able to find again if I tried. I’d just get lost in a forest.” When the surrounding terrain is the wave’s keeper, you know you’re on the frontier.
“There’s this one wave we went to where you first have to change outside.” Sounds normal to me, but then I remember the context. Lacking any real fetch, the only surf is wind driven. Howling onshore isn’t bad surf here – it is the surf. But, you also need to fully consider what that means. You need an onshore gale that blows across an icy sea before you can surf – so air temperatures are at their coldest when the surf is on. “So, anyway, then it’s about a 5 min walk, about a 10 min paddle to another island. And then about 25 min walk across it to the waves. In your cold suit.” That’s table topping stuff in the hardcore league. A good session is 20 min, and you can pass the time between waves by snapping icicles off your hood.
Compared to Mex, or SA, the waves are gutless. “You have to really know how to coax the power out of them to get some speed.” says the former globe-trotter. “But, the funny thing is it’s opened my eyes to different boards and different craft. Now, when I travel, I’m keen to surf fishes, Alaias, Paddle-boards or anything.”
Kalle’s stint here is almost up and he’s returning to Mexico, business and marketing degree in hand to take over the family’s surf shop and little hotel on the Pacific. Warm water and overhead surf await him. Strangely, he came here to learn for life after pro-surfing, but surfing in this strange place taught him a whole new approach to it. It goes to show, that if you’re willing, stoke can be found in the most unlikely places. And that’s something us fussy wave pickers should remember. We are blessed, yes. But, then we shouldn’t take anything for granted. Especially not those groomed days we get used to.
Now, get your board and go get wet. Whatever it’s like out there, Kalle and his friends would say it’s worth it.