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    Vikings will attack Philippe Park

    About 200 Sons of Norway are expected to land for the Constitution Day celebration Saturday, called Syttende Mai.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


    Sure, Norway's fierce Vikings were infamous for pillaging coastlines and terrorizing villagers. They even traveled to North America a thousand years ago in their fast vessels.

    But alas, the country couldn't quite find a way to become independent from Sweden until May 17, 1905.

    So this date, known as Constitution Day, is important to the Norwegian people, as well as those with a drop or two of Norwegian blood who live in the United States.

    About 200 of them belong to the Suncoast Sons of Norway, and they will celebrate Norway's independence day during the 20th Syttende Mai Regatta Saturday at Philippe Park.

    And what better way to celebrate it than wearing a traditional bunad, watching a regatta, walking on stilts and enjoying the three-ski race and the troll toss? (The Norwegian people invented the myth of the troll, according to member Nancy Kaufman).

    Sons of Norway members have the good ship Solkjest -- the name means Suncoast -- ready to race Saturday against up to a half-dozen other sleek Viking vessels from all around Florida, including Orlando and Jensen Beach.

    "It's done for fun," said Sons of Norway president Marvin Gustafson. "They race for a very lame trophy. We don't get carried away spending a lot of money."

    The traditionally styled Solkjest, with its serpent on the bow to ward off enemies, is about 18 feet long. It will be powered by a sail and six to eight rowers and a helmsman.

    "Anyone can do it unless they have a heart condition," said Kaufman, the organization's Kids Klub director and member of the woman's team.

    She said when she starts to row, her "adrenaline starts to pump."

    "It's like a real sense of accomplishment," said Kaufman, who has made at least 20 trips to Norway and whose father is a Norwegian who still owns his childhood home on an island off the coast of Bergen, Norway's second-largest city.

    The rowers practice once a week at Walsingham Park near Kaufman's home.

    "There is a sense of camaraderie," Kaufman said. "It brings you closer together."

    Instead of simply offering the boat race the club decided to offer some children and adult activities because "we're not all 90 years old," said Gustafson. So the Sons of Norway members make two pairs of stilts, one pair 3 inches off the ground, a second pair 18 inches off the ground.

    The three-ski race is a bit more challenging, involving "two sets of four people on six skies," said Kaufman.

    The bean bag troll toss speaks for itself.

    "I hope to attract the younger people of the Sons of Norway Lodge, and from the community to do some traditional games of the Norwegian culture," Kaufman said.

    Unlike Kaufman, Donna Norman, whose paternal grandmother is Scandinavian, will serve as a cheerleader on the lake banks during the regatta because "they'd surely lose if I did it."

    "I'm not an athlete," said Norman, who suffers from a bad back.

    She said Norwegian means "north man," but she is a Southern woman.

    She said she joined the Suncoast Sons of Norway because she was lonely after moving here from Miami in 1997.

    "I took to Norwegians because they have fun," she said. "They go bowling, have rowing practice, tennis and golf."

    If you go

    Go back to the time of the Vikings during the 20th Syttende Mai Regatta at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Philippe Park, 2525 Philippi Parkway, Safety Harbor. You can enjoy Viking replica boat races, a three-ski race and stilt-walking. The event is free. For information about joining the Suncoast Sons of Norway or its Kids Klub, call (727) 397-1352. You do not need to have Norwegian ancestors to become a member.

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