Finland has a lot of weird things going on. Especially when it comes to competitive sport: there’s the World Wife Carrying Championships, the Air Guitar World Championships and the National Log Rolling Championship for lumberjacrobats. And there are also more niche ones, like the annual swamp skiing race held in Northern Finland.
It’s not only the unusual setting for cross-country skiing that defines the little-known sport. Besides being ready to plunge face first into a swamp, competitors are required to wear floral dresses, wigs, and high heels. The 2018 version of the event was deemed strange enough to be featured on BBC News.
Swamp skiing was created by the artist Kari Tykkyläinen to celebrate integral parts of the Finnish national identity like, “madness, eroticism and sisu,” Yle writes. Sisu, as explained by Finland’s set of national emojis, is the feeling of perseverance.
“In Finland, as the saying goes, we ‘go through even a grey rock.’ Arctic nature has given us guts – or ‘sisu’ as we call it. It’s about not giving in – even when it might be wiser to do so…” the official explanation reads.
That definition seems very fitting for swamp skiing, where racers more often than not get stuck in mud up to their waists – and bystanders are encouraged to rescue them at their own peril. Yle’s coverage of the race does perhaps capture the whole spirit of swamp skiing a bit better than the BBC. For one thing, the BBC did not show founder Kari Tykkyläinen being covered in honey and feathers before playing the swamp blues on drums, guitar and megaphone…