Highway to Helsinki

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

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

Click here for more from our February issue, available on newsstands now, or click here to subscribe to our digital edition.