The Estonian Swing Experience: The Best Nordic Cultural Secret

As the minivan for our day trip pulls into Turbuneeme, a village within Estonia‘s Lahemaa National Park, our driver Tarmo turns to address us.

‘I have a little something to show you,’ the young lad says. His face fails to betray any excitement within though.

He leads us – me, a German couple and three Americans – up a slope to the quiet green. When I reach the top, I see what he’s referring to, and it’s not little by any means.

Estonian swing in Turbuneeme, Estonia
You’re actually not meant to sit on this

‘This is an Estonian swing,’ he informs us. It dwarfs anything else that could be called a swing. A few mature trees had been sacrificed to provide the timber for this giant kiik but it fits in with the rustic surroundings. Seats chained to metal frames in playgrounds look sterile compared to this. ‘You can get six, eight, all the village kids to stand on it. Who wants to have a go?’

My virgin Estonian swing experience

I jump at the chance, along with the youngest of the Americans. I wonder aloud if the three of us are enough to get such a large swing going.

‘No problem, I can do with my own power.’

Estonian swing
Me, Tarmo and Dan

The three of us clamber onto the planks as the others watch on, and the initial rocking is all Tarmo needs to get started. Pushing down with his hips and legs with each cycle, we gradually gain altitude. He continues the conversation casually as he works the rhythm, while the two visitors focus on using their legs in a way they are inexperienced in. The lad clearly grew up doing this.

“When it gets too hot in summer you can use this to create your own breeze. It’s good exercise too.”

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So good, that his fellow countrymen made a sport out of it. They can even do 360-degree turns.

As we gain more height, a little ‘woah’ escapes my lips. Being parallel with the ground mid-air is not a sensation that I’m used to, and only the grip of my hands and shoes keeps me from falling off.  I’m not acrophobic but today is different; I’m not in control and I don’t feel secure. The start of each drop brings an eye-popping rush of blood to my head. Each time, my hands grip the beams that bit tighter.

Our driver is right about that lovely breeze that builds up and slows down periodically though. I wasn’t a strong kid, and on the industrial contraptions of our neighbourhood playground, I never built up enough height to feel a humid zephyr.

It’s not his village, but I can easily imagine that his 1990s, and my then-girlfriend’s 1990s, were filled with breezes and places that were a lot like this.

I’m not aware of what Dan’s doing next to me, but I notice when Tarmo stops driving the swing a few minutes later. Naturally, we lose energy and altitude. My hands relax a little, but the fear that my feet might slip persists. Then it dawns on me that getting off this machine is not as straightforward as putting my feet on the ground. I need to let it slow down on its own. We’re sharing in a rustic childhood experience very different from my own, however, and for that, I don’t mind staying on the kiik a little longer.

With that, my Estonian swing cherry is popped, leaving a smile on my face for the rest of the journey to Viru bog – and back to Tallinn.

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Read on for the sequel to the swing experience.