10 Skills Needed for Ultra Endurance Paddling!

Starboard Rider Bart De Zwart and partner Ike Frans completed the Yukon 1000 (1600 kms) in 8 days 1 hour and 42 minutes in 2018, only 3 other SUP teams registered and completed the race. This event, a multicraft one and the longest SUP race in the world, emphasizes the skill set that endurance paddlers need to have in order to complete Ultra Long Distance SUP race events. Read on for ten top skills needed to be a great endurance stand up paddler from the King of Ultra Endurance SUP!

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

Endurance SUP Skill#1: Good SUP board with a Good Carrying Capacity

On the Yukon 1000 I paddled a Starboard All Star 14 x 24.5 with about 35 kg  (80 lbs) of food and gear on board. The stand up paddle board was ideal for the race due to its width, it was totally adapted to take all our gear yet it was a fast board to paddle.

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

Endurance SUP Skill #2: Stamina & energy saving

After the 1st day of paddling we made camp at 11 pm, after a very long day of paddling, it was then that we realized how gruelling the race was going to be. After checking for bear footprints, I pitched the tent and Ike started to boil water for our dry freeze meals. We were trying to be as time efficient as possible, especially knowing that we only had 6 hours to rest.

In the Yukon 1000 there is a mandatory 6 hour break starting latest at 11 pm and ends at 5 am. Within these 6 hrs we have to make camp, eat , sleep, eat again and back up. That means 3-4 hrs of sleep. We kept this routine for the next 8 days. We even made a fire during the rest stops which I think was a very important part of our trip. Each night, we took a good 30 min to wind down and it was the best moments of the race. When you paddle for so many hours you become sore and tired, however the moment when you are sitting around that fire and being in one of the remotest places in the world made it very special.

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

The next morning we woke up surprisingly fresh and ready for another day. The weather was great even too good as it was a little too warm. Even though each morning started cold by 11 am we were splashing ourselves with water in order to  cool down.

Endurance SUP Skill #3: Ability to Learn and Adapt

The concept of staying together was new to me but I enjoyed the company, the cooperation and the fact that we had to race as a team. John, the race director, told us the day before the race about the rules but also about the risks and responsibilities involved in this race.

Endurance SUP Skill #4: Self Sufficiency

It took us three days to get to Dawson, Dawson is one of only two places on the race where there is good road access, after Dawson you are  truly on your own.  Further along the Yukon there are only a few villages without any roads or any means of transportation to get out. During those three days we started to refine our routine. We were getting used to the 18 hours of paddling.

The dangers of wild life , hypothermia, heat exhaustion and the fact that you are days away from help if needed. So everything you do, you do with care, not overdoing anything or taking unnecessary risks. We  also had to carry a big list of gear  including compulsory gear bear spray, food for 11 days any other items which we need for survival if something would go wrong. But it was a lot of gear and a lot of weight on the board.

Endurance SUP Skill #5: Developing a paddle routine

18 hrs of paddling a day is a long time, so you really have to break it down in smaller bites. I was doing the navigation with maps, each map page was about 1 to 1.5 hr. You also eat almost every hour and drink all the time. You need to take in as many calories as you can. In the middle of each day we had a longer 10 min stop with different food something we both looked forward too.

It is very hard to know what food you will going to like during the race. I learned from my last long races that variety is key and that taking only cereal bars is horrible! The longer the race the more salty and fatty foods I bring. My day bag contained bags of mixed nuts, few cereal bars, ontbijt koek (Dutch special cake) Our favorite was fancy health food crackers with peanut butter and beef jerky.

Video Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

On the river 18 hrs of paddling flies by, it really doesn’t get boring because you are navigating most of the time, always looking for fast currents, also looking for wildlife and the scenery around which is stunning! The surrounding scenery is a mixture of greenery, river banks, mountains and rock formations.

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

Endurance SUP Skill #6: Ability to navigate

We had days with light breeze but also days with a strong head wind. On day 6 we entered the flats and crossed into the Arctic circle . Here the scenery changes, there are no more more mountains and the Yukon has many little island, there are many different routes to go into, some routes have currents some have very little.

Navigation is very critical here a small mistake put you back 30 minutes a big one many hours.  The first part of the race I know well because of the Yukon River Quest. So we didn’t have any new navigation issues

Endurance SUP Skill #7: Ability to wild camp

That night we found a good sandy spot to camp, beached our boards and took off the bags. For good measure we checked the sandy beach for bear foot sprints, we found big prints with small ones next to it, these were fresh. So this wasn’t a good sign. The bears are very protective of the cubs. The prints looked so crisp like they had just been put there. After a short discussion we decided to leave and find a safer spot.

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

Endurance SUP Skill #8: Team Support

On the last day we paddled the last 4.5 hrs and finished the race in 8 days 1 hr 42 min. The 1st SUP to finish. We gave each other a hug and received our coins from the race director. The finish was under the Dalton highway bridge. Only one of two bridges that we passed in the 1000 miles (1600 KM).

The next two days we spend recovering , talking with the canoe teams, we wanted to be there when the next two SUP teams came in. Ike and I were a good team, we worked well together and instinctively felt when we had to adjust pace when one of us had a slow hour.

After Completing this race you know not only the physical strength you need but also the mental strength it requires. On a SUP the Yukon 1000 is a tough race so we felt it was important to show our support and respect for both the SUP teams.

Endurance SUP Skill #9: Recovery and Mental Strength

Apart from some damaged nerves in my finger and toes my body recovered well. It is really astonishing what your body can do and that it can recover even during the race. My team mate Ike Frans was great. I knew he was a strong paddler but I had asked him because I knew he had the right attitude and mental strength. These two qualities are far more important in this race then anything else. You are literally on you own and depend on each other. We always valued each other’s strength and never had any issues. It is important to talk about disagreements directly when things come up right away. Little sleep and 18 hr paddling is not an easy situation if the synergy is not right.

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

Lack of sleep always worked against us and  slowed us down for a couple of hours day, we called this “the sleepy phase”. In order to snap out of it we tried talking, eating or when it was bad we did a 15 second sleep. You lay yourself face first over a bag and try to relax for a few minutes, and you find you will fall away for a few seconds. But then the instability of the board wakes you up instantly this usually helped.

Endurance SUP Skill #10 Preparation

The other things is preparation. You need to use all of your equipment food and gear, you need to test it so to find out what works and what doesn’t in an Ultra Endurance race. We have met some special people in the race and after the race. The harsh environment in this area attracts many special individuals. Truckers driving the ice high way, fur trappers, a father and 12 year old son who were walking from Dead horse to Valdez as part of a 12 weeks hike.

Photo Credit: Yukon 100 Canoe Race

A special thanks goes to the race organizers Jon and Harry who put all their heart into it and did a phenomenal job. If you ever want to do the longest race in the world and are ready for an adventure of a life time, than this race should be on you bucket list. But be prepared and forewarned it is very tough and the race organization does a good vetting process. This year 15 teams started but 17 teams were turned away for lack of experience.


About the Author

Helen Trehoret

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, France with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.

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