Kaljakellunta: Riverfloating and boozing in the Finnish Summer

Kaljakellunta: Riverfloating and boozing in the Finnish Summer

One mid-summer day back in 1997, 10 Helsinki locals stocked up on booze, inflated some rafts and kiddie pools, then proceeded to float down the Vantaa River while consuming said booze. They labeled it ‘Kaljakellunta’ and evidently had such a rollicking good time, that they returned with additional friends the following year. Within a few years, thousands of people were continuing on the tradition.

For me Finland needed no introduction. I’d already had a wild time in the rarely visited country, and had briefly been told about ‘Beer Floating’ during my last adventure there in 2013. So in 2014 while passing through Europe again, I was extended an invitation to join a few others to participate in Finlands greatest summer time booze up – I was totally down.

Officially, the entire event is unofficial. There are no said organisers or said organization behind it. Kaljakellunta simply pops up as several facebook events every year, and those keen to participate just vote up a date based on weather and popularity. In a country as regulated as Finland, it’s this decentralisation that has allowed the event to prosper and avoid been cancelled by authorities (though the threat remains that every year will be it’s last). While no one has died participating, having 1000’s of drunk people floating down a river in inflatables that will mostly be discarded at the end – presents a litany of hazards.

For 2014, the date would be August 3rd – a great choice as it ended up being 29 Celcius.  I was going with my friend Iina, her Fiance and her friend, Netta. I always thought Iina was fucking crazy, but mostly in an entertaining way. She was born with the name Maria, but aged 6 or 7 – for no particular reason – started insisting that her parents called her Iina, and had her name legally changed shortly after.

The four of us took a midday bus out to the city limits, crammed to capacity with other revellers and their inflatables, most of who were already drinking enthusiastically – as is the Finnish way. Once there, literally thousands of people could be seen spread across the grassy river banks, inflating rafts, before swarming down into the water – already full of thousands of floating devices.

 

Having inflated our giant paddling pool and stocked it with booze and paddals, we pushed into the water and joined the spectacle. The whole thing felt a bit like Wacky Races, albeit with boats and booze instead of cars, and a bazillion blonde, drunken Finns substituting in for the hijinks of Dick Dastardly and Mutley. While most people were nestled in a colourful assortment of kiddie pools or dinghies, others had created floating fortresses. There were several huge homemade wooden rafts featuring double stories, giant crank operated paddlers, miniature DJ stations and fired up BBQ’s – handing out sausages to other grateful floater-byers – including us.

The only annoying element was the fact that the current was gently pushing against the direction everyone was trying to head in – preventing anyone from just listlessly floating down the river as hoped.  As we got drunker and drunker over the hours, this naturally became more and more arduous for those of us on paddle duty at the time, as was the fact that we had to steer over to the  long grass on the riverbanks and dock with increasing frequency as everyone’s seals broke. Thanks to the current, we only made it 2/3rds of the way down over 5 or so hours, which was still better than what most people managed.

It was still a great day out though. For all the Finns reputation of been a shy and withdrawn people – that goes right out the door after a few stiff drinks, without turning them into agro unpredictable dickheads as seen across some of their borders . Everyone was making friends with everyone they floated by or into. Clearly Sun, Water fun and Party times aren’t at the forefront of things that you’d think of when imagining Finland – which is perhaps why I found the whole premise – and end event – so much fun.

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