Air gui­tarists strum out for world ti­tle in Fin­land


In a sweaty, dark, club­house in north­ern Fin­land, peo­ple were jerk­ing, jump­ing and scream­ing into the early hours Fri­day while mov­ing their fin­gers with pre­ci­sion through the air.

To the sound of blast­ing rock mu­sic, they were bat­tling it out for a spot in the fi­nal of a com­pe­ti­tion now in its 20th year: The Air Guitar World Cham­pi­onships.

What started off as a joke has turned into an an­nual fest of crazy mime artists who com­pete for the ti­tle of World Air Guitar cham­pion in the city of Oulu, a high-tech hub on the Baltic Sea sur­rounded by forests.

In 1996, there were eight com­peti­tors with one for­eign cham­pion, from neigh­bor­ing Swe­den. This year, a record 30 so-called “dark horses” from a dozen coun­tries com­peted for a place in the fi­nal to join seven na­tional cham­pi­ons from as far away as the United States, Ja­pan and Canada who au­to­mat­i­cally go into the fi­nal with reign­ing world cham­pion, Ja­pan’s Nanami “Seven Seas” Nagura who won last year at the age of 18.

Only 6/10th of a point sep­a­rated the first and last of the nine who qual­i­fied for the evening’s com­pe­ti­tion to make a to­tal 17 fi­nal­ists.

Beth “CindAirella” Melin from the United States, in a ripped pink tank top en­thused the packed crowd with air punches and kicks that sent her baggy black miniskirt flap­ping, egged on by shouts of “wow” and “yeah.” Her per­for­mance con­vinced the jury of a fourth place, be­hind two com­pa­tri­ots and Rus­sia’s Kereel “Your Daddy” Blu­menkrants.

The high tem­per­a­ture was too much for 2002 cham­pion Zac Munro from Lon­don, who pulled his shirt off to whis­tles and whoops from fe­male spec­ta­tors, as he wrapped up his solo riff to earn him the sev­enth spot.

The fi­nal later Fri­day will be a cooler af­fair, held on an out­door stage in a cen­tral city square damp­ened by steady rain.

One of the judges, Aline West­phal from Ger­many, said she will be look­ing for pre­ci­sion.

“It’s im­por­tant that the con­tes­tants are very pre­cise on the in­stru­ment and their fa­cial ex­pres­sions too,” she said.

And, of course, the in­ex­pli­ca­ble “air­ness” qual­ity needs to be good, she added. “You just feel it when air­ness is there.”

Eyes will also be on Matt “Airis­to­tle” Burns from Staten Is­land, New York, the three-time ti­tle holder in the U.S. — the “pow­er­house of air” which holds dozens of air guitar com­pe­ti­tions ev­ery year that have pro­vided a liv­ing for some. They in­clude the of­fi­cial “Air host” of the world cham­pi­onships, Dan Crane, who lives in Los An­ge­les.

Au­thor of “To Air is Hu­man: One Man’s Quest to Be­come the World’s Great­est Air Gui­tarist,” he has never made it to No. 1 but fin­ished sec­ond twice. He de­cided to stay in the rar­i­fied “air world,” host­ing the world cham­pi­onships since 2008.

“The ab­sur­dity re­quired to hold this event in this small city in north­ern Fin­land is equally pro­por­tion­ate to the ab­sur­dity of play­ing an in­vis­i­ble guitar in front of thou­sands of peo­ple,” Crane said be­fore the evening’s con­test.

Bel­gium’s na­tional cham­pion Em­manuelle “Miss Is­sippy” Stemp­ni­akowski, ad­mits she has but­ter­flies ahead of the fi­nal.

“I will give all I have in­side me — all the adrenalin, all the joy and all the hap­pi­ness,” she said bar­ing her teeth in a cat’s growl.


This file photo shows the win­ner of the 2014 Air Guitar World Cham­pi­onships, the then 18-year-old Nanami “Seven Seas” Nagura, of Ja­pan, as she per­forms in Oulu, Fin­land.

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