Paddleboarding in the Finnish archipelago

My successful adventure idea was to paddleboard from Helsinki. I would solo explore the eastern archipelago around the city, which consists of around 330 islands.

By Natasha Sones 

I recently paddled solo around the eastern archipelago of Finland, and it was amazing. The gem of an idea has been in my heart for a couple of years, doing a multi-day SUP adventure. I was lucky to be chosen as one of the three Adventure Queens Grant Winners in February this year. My successful adventure idea was a multi-day solo (five days) adventure paddleboard from Helsinki. I would solo explore the eastern archipelago around the city, which consists of around 330 islands. I would explore the gateway to lush green forests, sandy beaches and coastal nature as a contrast to the bustling city. 

After much preparation, including upskilling my navigation skills and practising paddling, I was on my way at the end of July. I had bought a new touring paddleboard, a 12’ 6” Red Voyager, which I named Ruby. She was perfect for the job, being incredibly stable and robust. 

Planning the trip 
I love how nature and the city exist side by side in Helsinki. Helsinki is a city that sets aside such vast natural spaces just for recreational purposes, allowing people to fish, forage, and camp for free. I settled on the eastern archipelago of islands as, within a radius of 5 km, there are 20 islands for outdoor activities and recreation. Several islands have fireplaces, outdoor toilets and stunning seascapes. These outdoor islands of Eastern Helsinki are usually great destinations for self-guided kayaking trips, but I decided to do it via SUP. 

I found a local outfitter, Natura Viva, who rents kayaks and SUPs and offers tours. I was taking my SUP with me, but I hired a stove from them to avoid finding somewhere to buy gas, as I couldn’t take it with me on the plane. They kindly let me launch from their canoe centre in Vuosaari and stowed my SUP bag and suitcase for me. 

In preparation, I had found several islands I wanted to visit, but I knew that when I was there, it would depend on which way the wind was blowing and which order I would visit. 

My biggest concern was safety. In Finland, marked canoe routes are uncommon, and islands or lakeshores are not signposted. I found a local outfitter to launch from, who was there in case of any difficulties. I also took a Garmin Inreach Explorer+, which I had hired for the week. I had a nautical map of the area with important information about boat lanes, prohibited islands, traffic lights, recreational spots and points of interest.  

Malkasaari Island 
On the first day, I was up at 02:30, through the busy airport at Stansted and then in Helsinki by lunchtime. A 25-minute taxi ride got me to the canoe centre, and after some lunch, I pumped up my paddleboard. I dislike pumping up manually (electric pump all the way!), but luckily, Walter from Natura Viva kindly gave me a hand! The wind was getting up, so I was keen to get on the water asap.  

The paddle was one of the choppiest I’ve ever done, so thankful I’d been practising. I made it, though, and had to get changed as the wash had soaked my clothing!  

I was so glad to land on Malkasaari Island finally. The island features various services for visitors. There’s a covered outdoor kitchen with a fireplace, charcoal grill, recycling spot, and compost toilet. Overnight camping on the island is allowed on this island (not all of the islands in this area allow this). There is also a sauna, although this isn’t currently in operation. 

Malkasaari has several beaches and picnic spots, and the island’s vegetation is forest-like. Its northern shores are rocky, sandy beaches. I wandered around the island and chose a spot I thought would be suitable for camping. I wanted to be out of the way, not too overlooked, with a view of the water. I think I accomplished that. With my tent up, I had some food before going to bed. I was tired from my early start, flight, board pumping and strong paddle! But so excited to be here; I was looking forward to tomorrow. 

Pohjoinen Villaluoto Island 
Waking up the next day to a gorgeous view; the sun shone through the trees, and the water looked calmer than the previous day. I had a whopping 12 hours of sleep and felt much more refreshed. I had a leisurely breakfast of baked apple porridge and a cup of tea. 

After that, I left for day two of the adventure, paddling again. Luckily conditions were much better, and I passed a big seal sunning itself on a rock. I didn’t notice it was there until it jumped into the sea near me! Things were going well until I had to cross a couple of boat lanes. It’s very tricky to navigate, paddle and keep an eye out in all directions for the boats whizzing by.

After a while of paddling, I was getting tired and decided to alter my course. Paddleboarding is about knowing when it is safe to go out, and I wasn’t feeling very confident then, so I decided to stop and regroup. I ended up paddling to the island formation of Villaluodot & Kotiluoto; these are three small islets, the Villaluodot, and a bigger main island, Kotiluoto. I pulled onto a sandy beach on Pohjoinen Villaluoto and pulled the board to some rocks so it wouldn’t get washed away.  

I found a great spot to sit on rocks, eat, and enjoy the sun. I had a stroll through the forest and then paddled home. Thankfully I crossed the boat lane without incident and got back.  The beach was so beautiful when I got back I just had to swim in the sea. Glorious!

I decided to swim again as it was so lovely. I was then getting a bit cold, so I carried the board back to where my tent was, changed into warm clothes and had a drink.  

I wasn’t sure I would be able to paddle in the morning. There was a moderate wind warning, and it was currently showing rain and 16 knots, with gusts of up to 26 knots. My priority is safety as well as adventure, so I decided to assess in the morning.  

Even at 23:00 in Finland, the sky was still bright blue, and whilst it was getting darker, it was more like twilight. I wanted to stay up until midnight to see how light it got, but my tent and sleeping bag were calling me! 

Vartiosaari Island 
Another good night’s sleep and a glorious view from my tent when I woke – sunshine sparkling on the water in front of me. Weather warnings were still the same, with a strong wind advisory, so I opted for just chilling out on the island today unless the weather changed.  I was feeling a bit down at the thought of no paddle today and the prospect of a day doing not much, which felt like a waste of a day.

But I decided to do some research and see what I could do. The island I was on is not covered by regular waterborne transport, but during the summer, you can travel to a few other islands by electrically powered Callboats. So I called a boat taxi and was on my way to Reposalmi!  It was super choppy en route, so I was glad I wasn’t paddling. I hopped on another boat to get to Vartiosaari, an old villa island in southeast Helsinki.

It is one of the biggest islands on the Eastern Helsinki archipelago and among the most beautiful islands in Finland. Even though some permanent residents are on the island, there are no bridges leading to Vartiosaari. The only way to visit this unique destination is by boat or kayak. After a quick pit stop for cake and juice, I set out on a 3.5-mile nature walk around many of the attractions on the island. There are many geologically valuable sites in Vartiosaari: the scenic viewpoint of Vartiokallio, one of the largest granite boulders in Helsinki, a giant glacial pothole (known as a giant’s kettle) and ancient coastal rocks.

I loved the old forests and forest church too. The vantage point of Vartiokallio offered an iconic view over the sea.  After this, it started pouring down, so I gladly got the boats home, crawled into my tent to get dry and waited for the rain to stop. Early start the next day as it was my penultimate day. Conditions looked good for one more paddle with all my kit, and then it was on to Helsinki to explore. 

I was so relieved the next day that it had stopped raining that when I woke up at 06:30, I was getting ready. I broke camp and said my goodbyes to Malkasaari. I had intended to camp on a different island, but my plans changed, and actually, it was nice having a base to go back to every night. I came to think of it as ‘my island’. 

Paddling back in the morning was thankfully much calmer and pleasant. I briefly returned to Natura Viva and sunbathed before packing my paddleboard and bags. I got an Uber (first time using one!) from Natura Viva to a hotel in Helsinki. Dropping off my luggage, I set off to enjoy the city in the sunshine. I saw sights such as the Presidential Palace and Helsinki Cathedral.  

I walked 15 minutes to Allas Sea Pool, where I’ve always wanted to go. It was just 22 euros for three hours of three pools, five saunas and a sunbathing deck. Swimming outdoors in the centre of Helsinki, next to the SkyWheel Helsinki and a busy harbour with boats to Stockholm and Tallinn, has to be one of the most surreal and beautiful places I’ve swum! 

Back at my hotel, I had a lovely shower and enjoyed sleeping in a proper bed. What an action-packed few days! The next day was my last time to say goodbye to beautiful Finland. After a lovely breakfast of porridge, bacon, toast, fruit, and blueberry juice, I packed my gear and went to the airport. I can’t miss dragging a large suitcase, backpacks and a big SUP with me! The day was grey and rainy in Helsinki, so I lucked out with the weather the day before. 

Nature and mindfulness 
I wanted to tie my adventure with my love of nature and hygiene. The whole appeal of paddleboarding is the peacefulness and calm it brings me. It was a privilege to experience Finland from the water in a truly mindful way. I wanted my adventure to go more slowly, and I enjoyed the sights, and it definitely was. The whole ethos of my trip was ‘slow adventuring’, exploring the beautiful landscape and nature by water in a mindful way. It wasn’t about the distance paddled but more the challenge of carrying all my kit, camping alone, navigating, etc. I made this adventure focus on nature, hygiene and the peacefulness and calm that paddleboarding brings me.  

Being in nature holds a revered spot in Finnish tradition. They feel energised by nature and love being in the forest and the lake. For Finns, nature is healing. I loved exploring this. It’s so easy to wild camp in Finland, too, as the law allows anyone living in or visiting Finland the freedom to roam the countryside, forage, fish with a line and rod, and enjoy the recreational use of natural areas – respectfully, of course. This is known as ‘The Everyman’s Rights’. 

I enjoyed my adventure and didn’t find it daunting to do it all solo. I only found crossing the boat lanes scary, but I enjoyed navigating the islands and camping alone. Finland is a perfect place for solo adventuring; everyone is helpful. It’s given me a lot more confidence in paddleboarding, and I will now try many different places to paddle. Thanks to Adventure Queens for choosing me as one of the grant winners – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. I hope I’ve inspired more people to realise that paddleboarding adventures are ready to be had! 

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