11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The “SUP 11 City Tour”
After an awesome week in Hood River, where I got to watch the world’s best paddlers up close, I’m now sitting at the airport getting ready to board another plane.
Next stop: Amsterdam.
From there I’ll travel a few hours out into the Dutch countryside to the province of “Friesland” and the city of Leeuwarden. That’ll be my home base for the next five days as I prepare for the craziest SUP race I’ve ever attempted: The SUP 11-City Tour.
The 11 cities is a 200km (125 mile) stage race held over five days. It’s long. It’s tough. And I have no idea why I agreed to do this.
But I believe it’s going to be one hell of an adventure…
When I tell people I’m doing the 11 cities I’m met with either “You’re crazy!” or “You’re gonna have such an amazing time!”
I have no illusions about making the podium in this race. For me this is simply going to a mental challenge: Will the 11 cities break me or can I hold on?
I’ve never done any kind of endurance sports before. As a kid I was always a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I did once paddle around the world with Jamie Mitchell, though even that was only 33kms.
So this event is going to seriously test me.
Though at least I don’t have long to wait: The first stage is next Wednesday. And now, thanks to the support of Mistral and the 11 cities organising team, we’ll be covering the 2014 SUP 11 City Tour live all week from September 3rd to 7th. That includes live GPS tracking of each stage as well as daily recaps, photos, insights and results as they happen.
To help you get acquainted with this bizarre/crazy/awesome/amazing race in the meantime, here’s 11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The SUP 11-City Tour.
#1. THE DISTANCE
The SUP 11-City Tour stretches for 200 kilometres (125 miles) through the canals and lakes of Friesland, a province in the northwest part of the Netherlands.
It’s a long race. So long in fact that it’s spread across five days*.
Each day is a different stage, with daily times being combined to produce the overall standings. Just like the Tour de France.
Stage 1 (Wednesday 3rd September): 43km
Stage 2 (Thursday 4th September): 45km
Stage 3 (Friday 5th September): 42km
Stage 4 (Saturday 6th September): 43km
Stage 5 (Sunday 7th September): 27km
(* Most paddlers do either the five day stage race or pick one or two individual stages to paddle for fun. However there is a new “Non stop” option this year, where you can literally race the entire course in one go. I chose not to enter that particular division…).
#2. THE TIME
It takes a looong time to complete the SUP 11 City Tour. Competitors paddle anywhere between 4.5 and 9 hours each day for five days straight (except the last day, which is *only* 27km and takes between 3 and 5 hours).
Peter Bartl’s winning time in 2013 was 21 hours 57 minutes. Marie Buchanan from the UK won the women’s race in 24 hours and 4 minutes.
That was considered a fast year.
In 2012 Bart de Zwart finished in 23 hours, 43 minutes, defeating Casper Steinfath by 6 minutes. The fastest female, Spain’s Laura Quetglas, had a combined time just a few seconds shy of the 27 hour mark.
In 2011, a horror year for weather and conditions (Jake Jensen pulled out with hypothermia), Bart finished first in 25 hours while Anne-Marie won in 29.
So yeah. It’s a long race.
If you’re really quick you’ll do the total course in about a day (24 hours). If you’re a newer paddler you can be out there for closer to 40 hours…
#3. THE WEATHER
The SUP 11 City Tour is (in)famous for having a rollercoaster of weather. Some years the event is a beautiful, warm, sunny tour through the gorgeous Frisian countryside. Other times it’s windy, rainy, freezing cold and rather unpleasant.
Most years it seems to be an entertaining and adventurous mix of the two.
The temperature has a big impact: Competitors have been known to both overheat and suffer from hypothermia in this race, something perhaps no other stand up paddle event can lay claim to.
The wind also plays a big role, especially on Day 1 where paddlers cross a large open lake towards the end of the stage.
This lake (Slotermeer) has great downwind conditions, but unfortunately competitors in the 11 cities take a path that usually equates to a belting side-winder. Paddlers have been known to get blown miles off course trying to cross this lake, which is particularly cruel seeing there’s only a further 1 kilometre to the stage finish after you make it across.
This lake quite often has a big impact on the overall 11 City Tour results: If there’s wind on Day 1, the contenders will all try and make a move right here.
#4. THE CITIES
The SUP 11 City Tour passes through, yes, you guessed it, 11 different cities in the Dutch province of Friesland.
The city of Leeuwarden is both the start and finish line, with the five stages forming a rough circle around the beautiful Frisian countryside.
Leeuwarden (Stage 1 start / Stage 5 finish)
Sneek (Stage 1)
Ijlst (Stage 1)
Sloten (Stage 1 finish / Stage 2 start)
Stavoren (Stage 2)
Hindeloopen (Stage 2)
Workum (Stage 2 finish / Stage 3 start)
Bolsward (Stage 3)
Harlingen (Stage 3)
Franeker (Stage 3 finish / Stage 4 start)
Dokkum (Stage 4 finish / Stage 5 start)
View SUP 11-City Tour course in a larger map
#5. THE COUNTRYSIDE
Everybody I’ve spoken to so far has told me: “You’re going to see a lot of fields…”
This race is seriously country, passing through endless farmlands in between each of the 11 cities. I expect to encounter a lot of grass, a lot of cows and a lot of windmills, which I think will be quite beautiful and rather serene.
Though if my race starts going bad, I’ll probably dread the sight of yet another grassy field around the next corner…
#6. THE CANALS
Canals and the SUP 11 City Tour go hand in hand. Around 90% of the course is on the various canals that act as the veins of the Frisien province.
Canals have played a starring role in the rich history of the Netherlands, being used at various times in history as the main transport routes. Just like bicycles, tulips, clogs and windmills, canals are an integral part of the Dutch culture.
#7. THE HISTORY
Speaking of history and culture: This event is steeped in it.
The SUP 11 City Tour was founded by Anne-Marie Reichman in 2008, when she paddled the entire 11 cities course solo. The first full race happened twelve months later as a special invitational event (Byron Kurt and Anne-Marie were the winners), however the “11 cities” concept is actually rooted in a centuries-old Frisian tradition.
The original Eleven Cities Tour (or Elfstedentocht in Dutch) is an ice skating race that first started in 1909 and has roots dating right back to the 1700s. It’s a huge event for the province of Friesland, made even more special by the fact it very rarely actually happens – only when the ice is thick enough to accommodate thousands of skaters at once. The Elfstedentocht has only been held 15 times in its 105 year history, the last race being in 1997.
The SUP 11 City Tour pays homage to this great tradition and adds a nice historic flavour to our young sport.
#8. THE BRIDGES
Bridges are everywhere on the SUP 11 City Tour. Most are standard height that can easily be paddled under, however some are very tight. A few of them even require paddlers to crouch right down in order to pass.
According to the 11 cities veterans I spoke with, it’s actually possible to break away from the draft train at the lowest of these bridges, as some paddlers struggle with the “crouch down” technique.
The bridges are a great vantage point for spectators and also produce some awesome photo angles (which we’ll have plenty of during our live coverage of this year’s race).
#9. THE BOAT
Most competitors live on a boat for the entire week, which follows competitors and waits for them at the start/finish of each day.
This is my first year in the 11 cities so I’ve never experienced it myself, however from what I’ve heard the boat becomes the heart of the event. There is a tired but lively atmosphere, with plenty of chatter about the race at the end of each day, before competitors retire to their quarters like sailors on an exotic ship.
#10. THE BART (AND THE BARTL)
Bart de Zwart is the undisputed King of the SUP 11 City Tour.
Famous for his epic, long distance SUP crossings, the 11 cities race was tailor made for this guy. Bart thrives on endurance challenges and has held the mental edge in three of the five years.
After Byron Kurt won the inaugural, invitation-only 11 cities way back in 2009, Bart went on a three-year winning streak from 2010-2012, where he held off challengers such as Casper Steinfath, Jake Jensen, Paul Jackson, Xavi Masde and Ryan James.
However that streak was broken last year by the aptly-named Peter Bartl from Austria. Both Bart and Bartl are returning in 2014 and will no doubt start as the two favourites.
Though he’s lived on Maui for many years, de Zwart originally hails from the Netherlands, which is also rather fitting.
11. THE BOARD…
Everybody has been quite shocked when I tell them I’m doing the 11 cities (I’m not known for having much pace beyond the first five minutes of a race, so 200km is way out of my comfort zone).
They’re even more shocked when I tell them I’m doing it on an inflatable…
I was partly inspired by Dave Kalama and hugely motivated by just how incredibly light and rigid the 2015 Mistral inflatable range is (something to do with an exclusive mix of German technology and European manufacturing, I’m told).
I’ve always been a board snob but these new Mistral inflatable stand up paddle boards are something else.
I’ll be completing my odyssey on the 14′ x 25″ 2015 Equipe model. It’s a standard production board, but it’s very, very light. There’s no way I would have agreed to do this race on a blow up board unless it was super high quality. And that’s exactly what I’ve found with Mistral’s 2015 “Equipe” range.
I’ll pick up the board in the Netherlands tomorrow and then have five days to get accustomed to it before the big race starts.
Seeing how it was Mistral that gave me the crazy idea to compete in this race (on the back of very little training and with a poor history of cardiovascular endurance, I might add) and also helped get me to the Netherlands, I’m going to be repping the Mistral brand pretty hard over the next two weeks.
Not only will I be competing on one of their boards, the Mistral crew will also be the presenting sponsor for our full coverage of the event.
That full coverage includes live GPS tracking plus daily recaps, photos, insights and results as they happen. I’ll even have Mistral brand manager Steve West following my adventures each day and hopefully banging out some fresh reports when my fingers are too cramped to type.
It’s going to be a mighty fun adventure and I hope you can follow along.
[notdevice]As you can see from that ominous-looking countdown clock in the top right hand corner of the site, there are less than seven days remaining.[/notdevice][device]The SUP 11 City Tour begins on September 3rd, meaning there are just seven days left to prepare.[/device]
Do you think it’s too late to start training..?