Saturday, May 15, 2010

Finnish First – The Story of Europe’s Oldest Snowboard, Built in 1969 by Paavo Kärkkäinen

There are only four things to do in Finland: snowboarding, drinking, racing cars, or killing Russians.

Despite having just over 5 million people, Finland consistently churns out bucket loads of snowboarding pros. The world of snowboarding is riddled with them, including the likes of Antti Autti (so good they almost named him twice), Heikki Sorsa, Jussi Oksanen, Eero Ettala, Joni Malmi and the bloke that got the silver at the Olympics.

And they love to combine snowboarding with drinking, and er…getting naked…
“He cleaned up on the pipe like a pipe cleaner”

Finland also regularly produces successful racing car drivers, from multiple rally world champions to the most per capita Formula 1 drivers of any country including; Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen, Heikki Kovalainen, Rosberg's son Nico Rosberg, who for no reason I can make sense of prefers to be German and Kimi Räikkönen who also loves to snowboard…

And drink…

And they’re not to be fucked with. That last time the Russians tried, just one Finnish man, Simo Häyhä, killed over 700 of them!

Despite that he somehow only crept in a number 5 in’s article “5 Real Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy” 
Over the course of 100 days, Hayha killed 542 people with his rifle. He took out another 150 or so with his submachine gun, sending his credited kill-count up to 705. Finally on March 6th, 1940, some lucky bastard shot Hayha in the head with an exploding bullet. When some other soldiers found him and brought him back to base, he "had half his head missing." The White Death had finally been stopped...

...for about a week. In spite of having come down with a nasty case of shot-in-the-face syndrome, he was still very much alive, and regained consciousness on March 13, the very day the war ended.
Today he still roams free waiting for the Russian's to have another go if they think they're hard enough.

So given the scarcity of things to do in Finland, now that the Russians have learnt to leave them well enough alone, the Finnish people can really concentrate on their snowboarding. In fact they’ve been concentrating for quite a while because it turns out that the first snowboard in Europe was built by a Finlandia.

Jarkko-Juhani Henttonen (who must be a Star Wars character) stuck this photo up on the wall of the Facebook group ‘History of Snowboarding’, which is one of the better things on the Facebook. [If you fancy joining, tell them I sent you as they’ll let you in for free that way.]

And this is the bloke who built it, Paavo Kärkkäinen who at the age of 15 in 1969 decided to build a snowboard.

He got the idea from reading a magazine article on surfing, and as surfing isn’t one of the four possible pastimes in Finland (well three possible pastimes, because snowboarding hadn’t of course been invented until just that second) he was forced to improvise. Using the two things Finland has way too much of, snow and wood, he cobbled together this beauty or as he says on his site through the Google Translator tool which was programmed by Yoda:

I was inspired and decided to make the calculation of snow-wood board. Then I went to the Central School of Rovaniemi yhteislyseossa. I got a school-wide corridor stock birch and I began to make sense of the word snow board.

Rounds the board of the head and did the most curved. Since the board was pretty thick, I could not persuade them. Any kind of ties did not have snowboards. Good gliding was a time when the base anointed candles.

Or to translate - he designed it, stole the wood from school, carved a board and anointed it with candle wax. The bindings were added later by his children who nailed inner tubes to the board.

As we’ve seen before the origins of snowboarding are a pretty complicated with a lot of folks inventing some sort of snowboard at various times without it developing into the sport we know today and Paavo’s invention falls into this bracket. In fact by the time his kids got around to inventing bindings snowboarding was already well established elsewhere.


Paavo ultimately didn’t pursue snowboarding beyond his initial invention; instead he became a geological chemist before a mid-life crisis transformed him into a motivational speaker/emotional councillor/photographer/poet. In the summer of 2009 he donated the snowboard to the Lahti Ski Museum in Finland, which now sports an impressive showcase of one snowboard. 


Snowboarding may not have grown from Paavo’s invention but it’s still a good story and an interesting bit of history. Nice one Paavo

Related Articles…

We’ve added Paavo’s invention to the Snowboarding History Timeline Machine


For another story of another Fin who liked to drink check out Matti Nykänen

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