Frisbee Land Spins into City Suburb
In Oulu, ‘Frisbee’ is so popular that there is now a shop dedicated entirely to it. With Finnish national Frisbee tournament this weekend, 65DN investigates.
The suburb of Höyhytyä is about a half hour walk from the city centre. Forested and leafy, it is composed mainly of 1950s-built, wooden, terraced houses and a few newer blocks of flats. Its ‘Shopping Centre’ was, until recently, typical of pretty much any suburb in Finland: a Sale, a few small bars, a Grilli, an R-Kioski and a couple of independent shops, such as a hair salon. Until a few months ago, there was also a vet’s surgery but this has since closed to make way for something for important: a shop, called Power Grip, devoted entirely to Frisbees.
One of the owners of the Frisbee boutique, Pasi Laakkanen, explains that he opened the shop on 2nd May, it having previously been located in Rusko.
‘In Rusko we were only open three hours a week and at night,’ he tells me. ‘It was mainly an internet-based shop. But here we’re open from 12 til 6.’
Hoyhtyä was chosen because of its proximity to the Frisbee Golf Course at Hiironen. ‘It’s only 1km away,’ he adds. Laakkanen proceeds to introduce me to the wondrous world of golf with a Frisbee. Unlike golf, no special clothes and required and the equipment – some Frisbees – is not especially pricey. But as with golf, you need a putter, a mid-range and driver, and these Frisbees are slightly, possibly imperceptibly to the uninitiated, different. Golf Frisbees are also smaller than the standard Frisbees that you get in toy shops. In golf, you aim to get the ball into a hole . . . in Frisbee golf you throw into a basket with chains hanging from it.
There are a huge range of Frisbees on display, which, explains Laakonen, includes a considerable range of qualities, prices, feels, flexibility-ranges and the like, so that players can find the perfect Frisbee for them. In addition, there are all kinds of novelties, such as Kalevala-themed discs.
Laakanen tells me that he gets the full range of customers, from teenagers to pensioners, but ‘the majority are probably around the age of thirty.’ While we conduct the interview six customers come into the shop, most of them teenagers.
It was a teenager that invented Frisbee. It began life in California in 1938 when Walter Frederick Morrison (1920 – 2010) and his future wife Lucile decided to pass the time by throwing a cake pan back and forth to each other in the garden. Somebody saw them doing this, decided it looked like fantastic fun and offered them 25 cents for the pan. As you could buy a cake pan for 5 cents, Morrison reasoned that he might be able to market his inadvertent invention.
After World War II, during which he’d been in the air-force and learnt about aerodynamics, Morrison designed an improved disc, called the Flying Saucer, which was eventually renamed the Pluto Platter. In 1957, the year he patented the design, Morrison sold the rights to toy company Whamo-O and later that year his invention was renamed Frisbee. Since then, about 300 million of them have been sold worldwide and Morrison, of course, made his own millions from his product.
So, why are these discs so attractive to a man in his forties that he’d open up a shop selling nothing but Frisbees?
‘In 2005, I was watching some sport on TV with a friend – it was the European Frisbee Golf Championship in Tampere. It looked such fun that we immediately bought a disc and started playing, so that’s kind of how it started.’
Having been working for Nokia for fifteen years, Laakkanen resigned in 2009 in order to dedicate himself to his Frisbee passion. Five men now own Power Grip – two working there full time. All of them are current or former software engineers.
‘Frisbee golf is the fastest growing sport in Finland and possibly in Europe,’ enthuses Laakkanen. ‘Ten years ago, there were 100 Frisbee golf courses in Finland. Now there are 300!’
Frisbee golf began life in Georgia in the 1960s. But hot on it heels followed a team sport, and this uses the larger, iconic-type discs. ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ developed out of a series of associations in the 1980s in the USA. And Oulu now has its very own Ultimate Frisbee team.
‘The Disquitos were established as an official team in 2004,’ explains their player-manager, yet another software engineer, Kari Tolonen. ‘We started at Oulu University in 2001.’
The team has a male and female division and about 30 players in all, of which between 8 and 10 play in any given game. The Disquitos play indoor ‘Ultimate’ in the winter and the outdoor version in the summer and will actually be competing in a national tournament in Tampere this weekend.
‘It’s such a challenging game and there’s a strong sense of community, especially in Oulu,’ replies Tolonen, when asked what attracts him to the sport. ‘It’s getting more and more popular all the time. And, in Oulu, Frisbee golf is also quite popular.’
‘Too far’ from the main Frisbee centres, the Disquitos do not participate in any international tournaments, but Tolonen stresses that many of them have played abroad as students. ‘Quite a few in our team are students and our new players come from the university,’ he adds.