Highway to Helsinki

Kalle Carranza's unlikely path from Mainland Mexico to the shores of Finland, from our February issue

| posted on January 25, 2012

Kalle Carranza, heading to the beach in uniquely Finnish surf attire. Photo: Morales

When you’re a grom, you’re incorruptible. You have no concept of the business side of surfing, there are little to no expectations resting on your performance in the water, and the surf is always good, even when it’s not. This truth knows no national boundaries, and when a 9-year-old Kalle Carranza started surfing around his hometown of Puerto Vallarta, riding waves was simple. “The scene was nowhere near as big as Cali or anything like that. It was pretty rad, I was just surfing as much as I could, almost every day and loving it,” says Kalle. Two decades of travel, several sponsorship contracts, and a SURFER cover later, Kalle has come almost full circle. But instead of jumping into the warm blue water at Punta de Mita, the now Finnish resident finds himself heavily clad in rubber from head to toe, pouncing on any little windswell produced by the frigid Baltic Sea. “You don’t really associate surfing with this place at all,” says Kalle about his new home of Helsinki. “But you go for a drive and walk through the forest and there you go: you have onshore, crappy waves with dudes out already, amped on surfing. It’s super rad.”

Four years ago, although he was certainly surfing better waves, Kalle was suffering from a depleted stoke of existential proportions. He was sponsored by Reef, and had just returned from a trip to Puerto Escondido when he had an epiphany. “I had burnt out on the whole surfing thing, and I wanted to do a little bit more. I felt like if I didn’t do something else I might end up a 35-year-old surfer with no contract, and nothing else.” So Kalle set out across the Asian continent, where many great soul-searching odysseys begin. After exploring Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China sans surfboard, he decided that a life without surfing was one he was very capable of living, and he decided to move to his mother’s homeland of Finland. He knew that as a Finnish citizen he would be able to attend university free of charge, and that this could be the perfect place to start the post-surf chapter of his life. What he didn’t know was that the frosty shore of Helsinki is precisely the place where he would fall back in love with the sport.

“The first time I surfed in Finland was a few months after I got here,” says Kalle. “I met a bunch of people that were amped on surfing. I was like, ‘really, you guys surf here?’ They lent me a board and a wetsuit and the waves were just wind chop, small, and super cold. But it was rad, because they got me stoked on surfing again. I got burnt out spending all day checking spots and waiting for tides. But if you don’t get to surf all the time, when there’re waves, you don’t even question it. My friend calls me up, and he’s like ‘Hey, there are waves.’ And I’ll be like ‘Alright, let’s go!’ Who cares if it’s 2-foot, low tide, or high tide, you’re just amped on surfing.”

Kalle Carranza isn’t the only one who’s amped on the wind-blown breaks of southern Finland. As it turns out, the surf scene in Finland is bigger than the small band of hell-bent Nordic watermen that you might imagine, and it’s growing in both number of surfers and international reputation. “You’ll go to some spots and there will be like 25 dudes in the water,” says Kalle. “There is like a full Finnish surf forum, where guys post photos and ask each other about waves and places to surf. People love surfing here, and it’s pretty crazy.” In October 2011, Finnish filmmaker Aleksi Raij premiered his documentary Finnsurf, a film about five Finnish surfers, at the London Surf Film Festival, where it received the Spirit of the Festival Award for it’s unique representation of an unusual surf scene.

Socialized education, fun surf, and close proximity to golden-haired Scandinavians? Sounds like the brave new surf paradise of the 21st century, but before you book your ticket there are some things you should know about surfing in Finland. You are a slave to the weather and by the end of November, surfing usually goes from difficult to outright impossible. “It gets so cold that at the spots we surf, the takeoff spot is literally frozen,” says Kalle. “It’s not that the edge of the beach is just frozen, but the entire sea is completely rock hard. The same place where you’re actually riding waves in the Fall, is going to be rock hard in a couple months. You can drive a car on it.”

Smashable lips give way to thick slabs of ice as the seasons change in the Baltic Sea. Photo: Morales

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  • Trevvie

    A very inspiring story! I love it how you always love surfing even if you’ve stopped doing it for years and years. There’s actually a somewhat similar surfing scene in Norway! I went to hit the waves in northern Norway back in 2005. The water was totally freezing, but the feeling… different but freaking awesome! I met a few norwegian surfers there can’t remember their names though. Also, I didn’t know Finland was a socialist country, I thought it was a western democracy? I failed geography more than once so no surprise there.

    Gotta watch that documentary sometime!

  • Maharichie

    Very nice article! Got me amped to surf, and I thought I was roughing with the cold here in San Francisco. The Finns I know are all super cool people so I can imagine how positive and stoked Finnish surfers can be!

  • carlos iran (

    gnarly article Kalle. muchos abrazos weii!!!

  • christo

    When I was at Bond University Gold Coast Australia, a non surfer student from Finland had some friends back there who surf, but said it is only possible for 3 months a year, i think the place is on the west coast north west from Helsinki, great article and could you send a link for that movie or a mini trailer or something

  • Timo Jarvinen

    Trevvie, it’s not a socialist country, it’s a country which is on the top of the world in pretty much everything starting from education, public healthcare and so on. They make things happen over there, will probably even have to bail the rest of the Europe out from the dept, which is a gnarly task for a country with less than 6 million people living in there. They pay taxes and money is used for making things run smooth for everyone. Western democracy at it’s best just like you said. Hard to imagine that writer got his facts so wrong, kinda like calling US socialist country as well. Surfspots, they aren’t on a top of that list, but that doesn’t take away those guys stoke. Nice article, Kalle rips and it’s refreshing to see something like this in Surfer Mag.

  • M

    Awesome to see that Finland is gettintg some publicity here! Thank you Kalle for bring us this great coverage – I hope you bring your frinds, and spread the word!

    If I may, I’d like to point out a few things, though. Firstly, it’s a relatively crazy bunch to begin with – obsessed with going fast/big, as evidenced by numerous Formula 1, Rally, Moto GP, Enduro, Snowboard, Freestyle skiing etc. titles despite having just over 5 million people. We love snowboarding and continuously produce world class riders despite not having any mountains to speak of. The fact that finns like surfing is perhaps not so strange after all – as it fits the bill as a sport we embrace, but also there’s a certain association to faraway tropical paradises that we certainly need in our heads to get through the long dark winter. In general, shitty conditions dictate our lives anyway, and surfing is no exception. If you happen to live in Finland and like to surf, or even the idea of it, better just make do with what’s on offer, regardless if it’s nothing a most surfers would even consider waves. Practicing and perfecting technique in bad conditions bodes well for trips to better locations – certainly the good spots will get the respect and admiration they deserve from Finnish surfers. I suspect that there may well be a finnish surfer on tour in the next 10 years. Ok, that’s perhaps leaning out the window a little, but one can hope!

    As to the politicts – this just needs to be rectified: Finland is by no means a socialist country. Finland is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world, and a true western democracy. Yes, schools and healthcare are largely funded by taxes, but that isn’t the same thing as a socialit regime. The National Coalition Party (moderate right wing) is the largest and forms the base of the parliament. In recent presidential elections, the parties left of center (the social democrats and the left alliance) failed to get a candidate to the second round collecting a combined 12% of the vote, whereas the candidate of the National Coalition Party (who got 37% of the vote in the first round) is battling it out with a liberal green candidate in the second round. So, certainly not socialist. There was a civil war in the aftermarth of the declaration of independence and where the “whites” defeated the socialist “reds” though.


    I watched the movie a few days back and it was pretty good, check out the trailer!

  • Joe

    I surf with Finns all the time–in Lake Superior. High amount of Scandinavians here in the U.P. of Michigan. And plenty of cold, onshore choppy waves. You are welcome anytime, Kalle.

  • Kristjan

    Great article! I am very surprised that you can surf in Finland but it must be very cold.