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Finland is often regarded as one of the quirkiest countries in Europe, and probably in the entire world. It is a nation that loves heavy metal, salted-liquorice-flavoured sweets and skinny dipping. But one area where Finland particularly baffles other countries is its obsession with weird sports. Most of these sports are played for fun, yet the participants still take them so seriously that most have their own championship tournaments. These are some of the wackiest sports in Finland you can take part in.
In this event, men carry their wives (or sometimes a girlfriend or female friend) on their shoulders through an obstacle course. Local legend in Sonkajärvi, where the Wife Carrying World Championships are held every summer, says that a 19th-century Brigand would only accept troops who could prove their worth with this challenge. Winners of the contest win a trophy and their wife’s weight in beer. There are also separate prizes for the most entertaining couple, the best costumes and the strongest carrier.
A true test of fitness and skill is playing football in a swamp. The rules of this game work almost exactly the same as regular football, except that the game is played in swampy ground, the muddier the better. More than 300 teams from 10 countries now compete in the Swamp Soccer World Championships in Vuorisuo every year, and plenty of other teams play just for fun whenever the ground is muddy enough.
While beer-floating is so laid back it can’t exactly be considered a sport, it is still highly quirky. At the annual Beer Floating Festival on the Vantaa river near Helsinki, participants simply float down the river in rubber dinghies or handmade rafts while drinking beer, resembling the ‘lazy river’ at a water park. Some have even done the event in inflatable bouncy castles! The event now attracts over 5,000 participants every year, but the local council isn’t as enthused, since the cleaning bill tops €40,000 each year.
With its huge amount of lakes, mosquitos are a huge pain in Finland during the summer. This is probably why mosquito-squashing has become a sport, with a yearly championship in the northern town of Pelkosenniemi, where mosquitos are particularly rife. The winner is the person who can swat the most mosquitoes in five minutes, and the current record is 21.
Finland seems obsessed with sports which test throwing skills, with both Wellington-boot and mobile-phone throwing contests being popular. But most peculiar of all is milking-stool throwing. It is most common on rural farms during the early summer, with the championship being held in the village of Kangaslampi in Varkaus. Apparently, it is surprisingly hard since the stools are so heavy.
Not a formal competition, but more of a dare challenge performed by anybody brave (or foolish) enough to try it out. The simple idea is to sit on an ant nest (sometimes while naked) for as long as possible. The person who can put up with the ants and stay sitting for the longest time is the winner.
If you can’t play football in a swamp or on a regular field because of the winter snow, you can do as Finns do and play it with snowshoes. Just like swamp football, it follows the regular rules of the game with the exception that the goalkeeper is allowed to throw the ball a certain distance.
A sport that has been taking off with young girls in Finland, hobbyhorsing involves taking part in equestrian events such as show jumping, dressage or a countryside hack except with a hobbyhorse instead of a real horse. Most girls do this because they can’t afford their own horses and want to experience the pleasures of riding and caring for one. Just as many are taking part simply to enjoy the subculture and the friends they can make from it.
Reindeer are one of the symbols of Finland, so it makes sense that there is a championship for racing them. It works much the same as carriage racing (another popular sport in Finland) except that instead of a carriage, drivers ride behind their reindeer on skis! The King Race is held every April on a frozen lake in Inari, Lapland. The fastest reindeer can reach speeds of 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour.