Hardly a week after winning the 11-City Tour, Bart de Swart, the extreme race rider from Starboard, had another endurance race lined up, in Canada this time… and won it. Here is his account of the Muskoka River X Expedition Race…
The Muskoka River X race by Bart de Swart
The Muskoka river X in Canada is a very special race. Special because it is, with 130km, one of the longest single day expedition races in the world. It is a non-stop one without support. The Muskoka river X race goes through lakes, up and down rivers and has 20 portages around waterfalls, rapids and locks. And, because it takes place in Canada in September, it is cold. During the day, the temperatures average 44°F (7°C) and it is as cold as 32°F(1°C) at night.
It particularity also comes from the fact that racers are not allowed to use a GPS and have to find their own way to the finish line with maps and compass.
I decided to use a relatively wide Starboard 14’x28 All Star just to be on the safe side on the rivers. Which proved to be the right choice, since it was fast and still stable, even in critical conditions.
The race is made for Canoes (1 and 2), Kayaks and SUPs. 64 teams showed up at the starting line. The solos started first, the 2 men/women-teams 10 minutes later. The evening before the start, we had the skippers meeting and got our trackers.
At the start at 7 in the morning it was misty, cold and raining. I was dressed light with only race tights, lycra, compulsory life vest and rain jacket. I had my Supskin dry suit in my pack strapped on the board along with all the food, rescue and navigation gear, clothing and water. The organization gave us 20 pages with detailed maps and a description of all the waypoint, portages, hazards and checkpoints.
I started at a good pace and was just behind a few meters of the lead kayak racers when we hit the first lake. My strategy was to follow the 2 men canoes, who were way faster than me for the first 45 km across the lakes and as soon as we got to the rivers I would pull out the maps and start navigating. The first portage, after 2 hours was a 2 km walk/run to get to the next lake. The paddling got me warm but the rain kept coming down with outside temperatures only a few degrees above freezing so it was not very comfy. But hell, this was an expedition race.
Although, at the first lakes we had a slight head wind, after the portage it came more from the back and you could even ride some bumps. Some of the lead C2’s (2 men Canoes) came flying by, but I was still the lead SUP and right with the leading kayaks.
At the first CP (check point), a medic would ask a few questions to check if you were ok and not getting insane or too cold etc. Then, I went down stream that time. It was very new to me and very exciting. I was flying along the river until I saw the first big rapids. For a brief moment, I couldn’t see the portage exit to get around this rapids but I found them just in time before I would be dragged down by the rapids. We were not allowed to run the waterfalls and rapids and most of them didn’t look doable anyway so I could have easily ruined my 14’ Starboard All Star hardboard.
The portage were exciting too. You throw your back pack around your shoulders, pull out the board and find your way to the other side, throw your board in the water and jump on again.
Nobody brought enough water for the whole race. I started with 2.5 liters. Along the way you would fill it up in the river, some would purify the water, I drank it straight from the river (don’t try this at home).
The scenery was astonishing during the whole race. Beautiful hilly landscapes, winding rivers, a true Canadian countryside.
I tried to eat at least every hour and drunk all day. This helps to have an even energy supply throughout the race without any bunking or dips. Food was probably the heaviest item I had with me. In addition of the race food, you needed to have 2300 Calories of emergency food with you. Apart from my liquid bike food (Hammer Perpethuem), I tried to bring different solid foods because you never know what you are going to feel like eating after 15 hours of racing so mixing it up is a key thing.
After about 11 hours of racing, 6 hours on the river and many portages the weather cleared up but the night was coming soon. By the time I reached the second check point, it was already late. From here on it was upstream. The problem with the cold nights and the warmer river is the fog. During the night the fog started and became very thick. Lights were impossible to use, because of the reflection you see nothing but white around you. I still felt pretty fit but dreaded this part because of the currents against me and because of the fog, so I didn’t know what to expect.
Some falls were impressive. You paddle up close against the current and just before the falls you pull out the board and walk around it. When night fell, it was pretty dark, there was no moon but you could still see all you needed to see. I only used my headlamp to look at the maps or during the portages. By now the cards were shuffled. I was well ahead in the SUP field and I was paddling together with Graham a Canadian Kayaker who was holding a solid second place. We pasted through some of the heavy current hazard areas were I had to give everything just to make a few meters. You could see the trees on the side passing by, very slowly and it was not really funny. The canoes had a harder time here with swifts and rapids and some turned over.
It was getting colder and colder and the fog thicker and thicker. At the last check point, I put on some warmer cloths. We were still progressing at a very good pace and from there, we were only 19 km far from the finish. The moon was coming out when we passed the last lake. Fortunately, we found the entrance to the last river on the other side without problems. By then, the fog was very very thick, all you could see was the contours of the trees. It was spooky and mesmerizing at the same time. The moon light shining through the trees, the fog swirling around us and every now and then a brief opening through the fog.
Thanks to the maps, we found our way through to the finish. The last few 4 kms were flying by, despite the fact that we couldn’t see anything on the lake just before we entered the same town we left early the day before.
Graham and I crossed the finish line after 18 hrs and 23 minutes. Graham Took the second place as a Kayak runner and I finished at the first place as a SUPer with a new record.
Out of the 64 teams who started, only 44 arrived. Out of the 6 SUP’s only 2 arrived. Here are the final results of the Muskoka River X race:
SUPers : 1st Bart de Zwart, 18 hours 23 min
2nd Pete de Mos, 21 hours 29 min
Canoe and Kayak : Fastest 2 men Canoe, 13 hours 17 min
Fastest 18ft Kayak, 17 hours 54 min
When I got back to the car, I realized how cold it was. I had ice on the roof of the car. After all, it was an amazing race with astonishing backgrounds. Exactly the kind of experience you have to do at least once in your life.
Thanks to Starboard, Supskin, Black Project Fins, Patagonia, Robijnsbv Suunto/CamelBak, Maui Jim and my wife, Dagmar who took care of the shop back in Maui.
Canada, a land of wide open spaces, untamed wilderness and a thriving SUP scene. At the heart of that scene are a number of dedicated individuals working hard for Canadian SUPers. One of those paddlers is Brent Ackland, the Infinity Surfboards man for the North Americas who has spent some time talking with Chris from […]
The 2023 ICF SUP World Championships (15-19 November) in Pattaya, Thailand has officially kicked off! TotalSUP caught up with the Starboard SUP Dream Team Riders to ask about their SUP racing season to date, board set up and the ICF Worlds expectations. Fiona Wylde: SUP season to date: I’m coming from a bit of a […]
As the 2023 ICF SUP World Championship is about to kick-off, I want to take a moment to publicly send my deep thanks to Starboard for sponsoring our TotalSUP trip to Thailand which has taken my family and I to magical places like Khao Lak, Khao Sok and Kho Pha Ngan over the past two […]
The countdown to the 2023 ICF SUP World Championships held on 15-19 November 2023 in Pattaya, Thailand is on! With an impressive number of nations (44 and counting) already signed up, the highly-stacked ICF Worlds event is certainly setting the scene for some exciting SUP action with the defending Champions and new talent all fired […]
New gear, new sizes or upgrades, the 2024 Stand Up Paddle Range by Starboard is out! What’s new in the 2024 Starboard SUP lineup? – Ace Foil – a downwind foil board inspired from the famous Ace – Starboard Gen R – the flat deck race board is back! – X-15 Foilboard – a board […]
Last year Japanese SUP Racer and new Starboard recruit Rai Tagushi left a lasting impression in the world SUP Racing community by securing a double win at the 1st edition of the Busan SUP Open in Korea, one of the most remarkable performances of the year 2022. As we approach the 2nd edition of this […]
Starboard Team launches Gen-R, this highly anticipated board for 2024 is a new breed amongst Starboards already extensive and world class range of race SUPs. There have been a few boards circulating amongst the Starboard Dream Team riders, where they have already been exhibiting amazing performances on them. The Gen-R is ‘bridging the gap’ between […]
Power, focus and conviction seem to be the accurate words to describe the racing style of Linus Karlsson, six-time Swedish SUP Champion and Starboard Team Rider. TotalSUP caught up with Linus in between two races – Planet Baltic SUP Race in Poland (where he has just bagged fresh podiums – Technical Race Win and Silver […]
Two words: Asger Smidt . We met this die-hard gamer turned SUP athlete, Overall Danish Champion 2023 and Starboard Team Rider in Malmö, Sweden as he was tearing the technical and long distance races up. Ambitious, hungry and tremendously hard working, at only seventeen, Asger brings explosive and elegant paddling style to the SUP racing table. […]
Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.
3rd Party Cookies
We use a set of third party tools to provide information on how our users engage with our website so that we can improve the experience of the website for our users. For example, we collect information about which of our pages are most frequently visited, and by which types of users. Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!