Winter in Finland is a lovely experience. That is, if you enjoy a climate where the wind is blowing from Siberia, air temperature is -6C and water temperature is zero. You might not guess that this is also the perfect time to go surfing.
Finnsurf has been making rounds in film festivals around the word since it premiered in the Love & Anarchy festival in Helsinki in September, where it was sold out.
Nokia sponsored the making of Finnsurf, and I recently got an opportunity to interview its director, Aleksi Raji.
Where did you get the idea for Finnsurf?
In 2003, I got into the spirit of stoke. That’s when I tried surfing for the first time. I was instantly hooked and started travelling around the world surfing. At the same time I was going to film school, and I wanted to find a way to combine my two passions. In 2005, I found out people are surfing in Finland and I started surfing here myself. That’s how I got the idea. Surfing is very visual and it looks good on film.
You mentioned the word “stoke”. What does it mean?
It’s when you really love something and want to do it all the time.
I’d rather punch myself in the face than spend any time in the freezing waters of the Baltic Sea right now. What kind of people surf in Finland in the winter?
You have to be pretty desperate to do it here. But if you can’t travel, it’s your only option. Some people portrayed on the film used to live in sunnier climates and learned to surf back home. Then they moved to Finland and started doing it here. Others are Finns who learned to surf while they were travelling abroad and wanted to keep on doing it after they got back home.
What does it feel like to surf in Finland?
It’s different, I can tell you that. In some parts of the world you surf when the weather is nice, but here you can only surf when it’s stormy. This year we’ve had many winter storms, which have meant ideal conditions for finnsurfing. You have to be quite skilled to surf in Finland, because reading the waves is not easy here. Your hood may be frozen, but when there’s water inside your wetsuit your body heats it up and you don’t feel so cold. I’ve been surfing for as long as two hours at a time here.
Where in Finland do you surf?
I can’t reveal that – surfers are very secretive about their favourite spots! If it gets too crowded, there are fewer waves for everyone. But I can tell you that Hanko is a popular destination for surfers. Some people also surf behind the ferry lines.
Surfing scenes on the film looked spectacular. How did you shoot them?
In addition to shooting footage from the beach with all kind of cameras, we used waterproof cameras that were rigged on the boards. We managed to break several cameras during the process. Some of the scenes I shot surfing next to the person I was filming. When you’re filming you have to be close to where the wave breaks, which actually meant there were times when I was close to drowning. Water filming needs years of practise, you need to read the waves right.
What’s the big message behind your film?
I don’t want to spell it out for people; everyone who sees the film gets to figure it out for him or herself. For me it’s all about surfing, showing how great if feels and how it gets you stoked and hooked. I also wanted to tell the story of people’s personal passions and show that if you dream about something, it’s always possible to achieve your goals. Don’t let adversity stop you from reaching your dreams!
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So there you have it. Surfing might be fun and games when the sun is shining and you’re in Hawaii. But it takes true passion and dedication to keep on doing it when you’re swimming against a hard current with icicles on your hood. You can call us Finns anything you like, but you can’t call us quitters!
Watch the Finnsurf trailer on Vimeo. The film has recently scooped awards at film festivals in Slovenia and London. Next up, Finnsurf is heading to Slovenia, DocPoint Helsinki and Yallingup Australia. Check out the schedules on the Finnsurf Facebook page. The DVD will be out next summer.