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Catching waves with Finnish sisu

Finnish sisu is like pushing a whale back into the ocean – there’s no option to stop halfway.

Sisu is an untranslatable Finnish word that takes perseverance to a whole new level. For Finns, sisu is a matter of attitude; the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit. It’s like pushing a whale back into the ocean – there’s no option to stop halfway.

Last summer I decided that it was about time I learnt how to surf. So I booked a surf camp with a friend, headed to the most southwestern point of Europe and dived in amongst the waves. The sea was rough and cold – a far cry from a ‘no worries’, laidback scenario with Bob Marley’s reggae playing in the background. After days spent falling off my board, bruising my entire body from head to toe and swallowing an immeasurable amount of seawater, I started to get the hang of the sport.

Whilst watching my relentless grappling on and under the waves, my friend, who’s genetically half-Finnish, said to me: “Finns have this sisu, a crazy drive to go for things. I’m not sure if it’s madness, or something that everyone should pursue, but I think that I missed that quality in my gene pool.”

I agree, sisu is probably partly about being madly obsessed about something, but it’s also being patient and committed to a bigger goal. It’s also a quality that has helped Finns to aim high and develop the craziest ideas, like the text message and filing the world’s first patent for a pocket-size folding telephone with a microphone back in 1917.

Finland’s booming gaming scene is also all about sisu too. Rovio, who spread its wings globally as the creator of Angry Birds, had to lay off one-third of its workforce last year. But, now it has risen like a phoenix from the ashes with its Angry Birds Movie this year. So far the movie has grossed over 300 million US dollars worldwide. Let’s hope that the company’s flight stays smooth.

Also, no matter how many opportunities or perfect waves you’d miss, there’s always going to be another one. All you can do is to paddle as hard as possible and try to keep your balance while standing up. Yes, sometimes you’ll fall, but at least you tried, before deciding to climb back on the board and wait for another one.

Now, that’s sisu.

Published on 16.06.2016