Hakai Magazine

Sofia Green in a floating sauna
Sofia Green, one of the first floating sauna masters in Oslo, Norway, has a job that makes people sweat. Photo courtesy of Kok

Coastal Job: Sauna Master

Sofia Green helps guests stay hot in the sauna and safe in the cold fjord.

Authored by

As told to Jennifer Varino

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Some people work in cubicles, others work in kitchens, but the most intriguing workplace of all may be the coast. Meet the people who head to the ocean instead of the office in our Coastal Jobs series.

Sauna master Sofia Green works on one of Kok’s floating wood-fired saunas docked in the picturesque harbor of Oslo, Norway. A Swede in the Norwegian capital, she hosts locals and tourists alike looking for rejuvenation and a bit of fun in an unforgettable spot.

Under my clothes, I always have a swimsuit on, since being a lifeguard is part of my job. Not everyone wears one in a sauna, though. My second shift, I had a group of elderly nudists. They were so happy and relaxed as they stood outside talking after a skinny dip in the harbor. I thought it was very freeing.

The sauna fits up to 10 people at a time. It’s my job to manage their experience for two hours and help them push their limits. It might be cold or even snowing, but almost all of my guests go for a hot-cold cycle to boost circulation and flush toxins. They jump into the fjord—often from our sauna roof—and then scramble back to the warm sauna again and again.

I follow a three-step sauna ritual called aufguss [the German word for “infusion”]. The process lasts about 15 minutes and helps people become more aware of the sensations. I put different essential oils on the coals to heighten everyone’s sense of smell, gradually raise the temperature by stoking the fire with birch logs, and wave a towel to make it even hotter. The steam can briefly push temperatures over 90 °C.

Alternating between hot and cold triggers endorphins that give us all a natural high. I haven’t felt anything like it elsewhere. There is such a good vibe in the sauna—the guests even enjoy the surprise scoop of cold water I pour on their heads! No one leaves without a smile. Even if I’m tired when I go to work, I leave more energized because of the feeling I get from being close to guests during the whole experience.

When I’m working, we stay at the dock, but some of our sauna masters are also skippers who take guests out on the fjord in the sauna boat. On a cruise for one of our staff parties, six sauna masters and I had a competition to see who could endure the most heat. I’m in and out of the sauna throughout my shifts, and I’ve worked at Kok for years, so my heat tolerance is pretty high. I reckon we had the temperature up to around 120 °C. We were all getting the chills because extreme heat can confuse the body into thinking it’s cold, but we kept it safe by drinking lots of water. I stepped out after about 12 minutes because I didn’t care about winning a beer. My coworker Joe lasted 20 minutes and was so happy he won.

Once when it was cold and dark and there was a thin layer of slushy ice around the boat, a group of guests noticed a gray shape swimming around the sauna and thought it was a shark. The guests weren’t afraid to jump in, but I advised everyone to wait. We took a video that a marine specialist later checked, and the “shark” was just a salmon that liked the heated water around the sauna. It was the biggest fish I’ve ever seen.

I’m one-quarter Finnish; that’s fun for me to say since Finland is where sauna originally came from. Sauna culture in Oslo has grown immensely in my five years as a sauna master. I feel privileged to be a part of that. Before working here, I didn’t have the same strong connection to being outdoors in the winter that many Norwegians have. Now, I am helping to make the harbor a place that people go to regardless of the weather.

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Cite this Article:

Cite this Article: Jennifer Varino “Coastal Job: Sauna Master,” Hakai Magazine, Nov 17, 2022, accessed June 21st, 2024, https://hakaimagazine.com/article-short/coastal-job-sauna-master/.

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