Last Monday night I returned from Valma, Estonia where I was competing in the World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships. This is an annual international competition sanctioned by WISSA (the World Ice and Snow Sailing Association) that has been happening since the 80’s and I have been attending throughout my life with my family. And I have been racing since age 17.
There are three classes within WISSA; the kite class (picture kite surfing), the sled class (a windsurfing sail and a typically homemade board with skis or blades attached) and the wing class (a sail called a kitewing). I participate using a kitewing.
Being a part of a family that does this obscure winter sport has taken me to some very interesting places over the years, and this year was no exception. The races were originally planned or Haapaslu, however a week before the event, the ice went out and the organizers had to find another location. This ended up being a place along the edge of Lake Võrtsjärv, the second largest lake in all of Estonia.
After twenty plus hours of travel, we arrived at the Tallinn airport, where we where we then had a three hour drive to the race site. There was no snow and above freezing temperatures all week. The lake had a few cm of water on top and the clouds sprinkled rain every now and again. These were conditions I had never really experienced, but I came to realize this might be the new face of this sport as our climate changes.
The first day of racing was a long one. We began at around 10 in the morning and ended around 4, competing a total of five course races, which is basically, going around marks set up on the ice in upwind and downwind pattern. It was some of the most interesting sailing I’ve done because of the layer of water on top of the surface of the ice. Was it even ice sailing at that point? That is a question I will let you ponder.
Unfortunately, on the second day, during a race called short track slalom, I twisted me knee. Short track slalom is very fast paced and action packed. It begins with four competitors lining up, and when signaled, we take off and go around a short down wind course as fast as possible. Another competitor fell on and slid into me and I couldn’t stop or move in time. While there is no doubt I was sad about no longer being able to compete, this injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Typically, when we go to these races, the competitors see little more than just the race course, the accommodations, and the airport. With an interest in photography, I was keen to explore more of Estonia than just the ice, and in an ironic way, this knee injury granted me that wish.
I had the opportunity to explore the landscape surrounding the race site, which was dotted with intermingling wooden structures and soviet era brick buildings. Seeing these kinds of buildings brought many parts of history to life for me; beyond the what I had been taught in school. I visited the nearest town called Viljandi, and the next day the closest city called Tartu (one of the biggest college towns in Estonia). Both of these places had diverse architecture that made for great photos and allowed for great insight into the culture. Sometimes the best part about going to a new place is walking down the street or going into a grocery store so as to get a glimpse into what life is like there.
While we were exploring the city of Tartu, the ice went out on the lake while racing was taking place, causing the organizer to stop the races one day early. Some friends described the event to me later, saying that one-second the ice was fine, the next a large crack formed. This was just another reminder to me of our changing climate. Here I was in a Northern baltic country, typically known for cold winters, and we had been sailing in rain and on water. The final ceremony was that night, and despite my injury I did end up receiving a medal for first in the women’s division for course racing.
On our way home, we spent two nights in the historic city of Tallinn. I can say without a doubt this may be one of my favorite cities I’ve ever had the fortune to visit. During the two days we were there, I wandered the streets of the old city, along the cobble stone roads and past the buildings dating back to the 1200s. It really felt as though I had been transported through time.
Racing on ice and snow with amazing people from across the globe is amazing, but getting a chance to really become an observer of another country culture is quite special. So as you read this, I hope you are encouraged to get out and explore this vast and intreating world of ours. Thank you for reading.
If you are interested in seeing more of my photos from the trip, please check out this link https://www.flickr.com/photos/140019617@N06/albums. And if you have any questions about the sport, feel free to find me on campus and ask!