Starboard Rider Bart De Zwart Wraps Up His 715km Yukon River Quest

Starboard long distance paddler and adventurer Bart De Zwart is fresh off the Yukon River Quest. Bart gives TotalSUP a breakdown of his 715 km race through the Yukon where he paddled using the Carbon Sandwich All Star 14 x 24.5, a board that performed exceptionally throughout with its brilliant combination of a good race shape and extra volume so he could store gear without loosing performance.

Yukon River Quest wrap up

Posted by Bart de Zwart on Sunday, July 1, 2018

Hi Bart, How was your race preparation?

Just before the race I didn’t have a regular training schedule for a race of 715 km as I was traveling through Europe by car, visiting family and going to the wedding of Connor Baxter. But I did have the new Starboard Airline 14’ inflatable All Star with me which is a great tool and fabulous board to have on the road, extremely easy to pack up and a real fast board this meant I could train wherever I could. Once in Canada I changed to the Rigid SUP All Star 14 x 24.5.

This year the weather looked great (little did I know) and there was a massive group of entries (120 teams), unfortunately in the last week  a few Stand up paddle boards pulled out of the race, mostly because of injury or not being fit enough for a race like this. The race is demanding with little option of pulling out between the few check points, sometimes 100’s of km apart. So its takes planning, preparation and being fit physically and mentally. Mental preparation being the most important aspect!

Can you describe the race?

The start is a 200m race to the board, which I had placed on the river bank ready to go (with all my mandatory gear and food). This is enough gear and food to survive if you get injured, have really bad weather and you have to camp out for a couple of days to wait for rescue.

When I started I was confident I could complete the race in under 55 hr, but soon after the race began the head wind started and I realized I had to slow down a little, so I wouldn’t hit a wall. The currents on the Yukon are very fast even with the head wind I was moving along but I was  still going 1-3 km slower than normal.

As the race went on I became better and better at reading the currents. The river here is different to others it doesn’t always pay off to move to the outside of a bend to catch the faster current. This makes the race more interesting as you are always looking for the faster water it is never monotonous.

Photo credit: Harry Kern, Yukon River Quest

The water of the river and currents were low this year so it was a slow start to the lakes, it took about 3 hours. The promised tailwind turned into a head wind on the lake so all competitors were a lot slower over the lake normally it takes 6 hours. Finally around 10 pm at night I got to the River and picked up the current. After a hard 10 hrs paddle the current made me feel like I was flying. But it was quickly getting colder. Although the sun doesn’t go down until 12, it does get chilly and with water only being 5 degrees. But if you paddle hard, you stay warm.

During the first 10 hrs I had a good distance between myself and the 2nd placed team, a tandem sup team from France (Sebastien Le Meaux and Stéphane Leblond). Throughout the paddle I often found myself with other kayak and canoe teams. I had expected Sebastien and Stéphane to pass me at some point being on their 17′ board, especially as they were two, but their inflatable was a handful on the lake and by now the were  getting tired.

After paddling alone for about half a day I started making ground again on another canoe and kayak. At this point the steep mountains come into view which are beautiful however the little islands and sandbars present in the river make navigation difficult, because each year the changes that happen over winter with the water, snow and ice change the river course so maps don’t really help. At one point for about 15 minutes I wasn’t sure where I was, but soon I recognized features from the map and I knew then where I was going.

Did you stop at all during the race?

After 25 hrs of paddling I arrived at the rest stop, I had to complete a compulsory break of 7 hrs, there I ate, slept off I went again. But the sleep part wasn’t that good this time,  because there was a fair bit of noise around my tent with people arriving and snoring. I kept waking up but I did get some rest.
The next rest stop was about 17 hrs away. But first we had to encounter the five finger rapids which always sounds harder then they are. I came through without falling in the water which would be a hassle  it was 10 pm and getting cold again. A fall in the water would mean stopping and changing clothes before continuing.

For the first 6 hrs I was doing well and catching other canoe and kayaks, the other sup team and solo sups were still far behind.  Every now and again a head wind picked up plus all my muscles were very sore, at this point I was loosing time and my 52 hr  time plan was slowly fading. I was already a good 1 hr behind at the first stop and it looked like I would be losing another hour. Later I heard that a record 25 teams had quit the race at the first stop mostly from exhaustion or being cold.

How was the night paddling?

During the night it is harder to keep the momentum going as you are battling sleepiness constantly, your eyes go out of focus and your pace is slows down. Sometimes you actually fall away for a millisecond. The moment you have an imbalance you almost fall of your board, then adrenaline shoots up into your brain waking you up instantly, just in time not to fall off your board. This is the worst of it but mostly you just have a few hours when you feel very sleepy. But suddenly the sleepiness is gone and you are ready for another day.

The nights in the Yukon are twilight for a few hours than darkness, giving you the feeling you paddle always in daylight. The night was tough, not too sleepy but I was sore and in the morning clouds gathered and a thunder storm came in from behind , chasing me with thunder. It got very windy and started raining an hour before I was due to break, after 42 hrs of paddling. I still had 17 hr of paddling to complete before the last break.

The thunder came really close when I reached coffee creek for the 3 hrs and final break, where I ate and slept on the ground while the clouds above broke down on us. When I woke up after a 2 hr sleep I felt great (a little sleepy) and the sun came out again. I was ready for the last 12-13 hrs. Still now sign of any competing sups behind me. Later I heard more pulled out and there were only 4 more  SUP teams in the race.

How did it feel to finish?

During the race it is really difficult, the pain in the muscles is intense, even a massage doesn’t go away, which is why it is a tough mental race. Once i finished at 5am it was pretty good, I could relax my back.  The enforced stop of 3 hours was frustrating as I wanted to break the 55 hours race time, as there is only race money awarded if you come under 55 hours. A time that is harder on the SUP as we are the shortest and slowest craft on the water, after a while I was 30 minutes behind the 55 hour cut off.

Any advice for future racers?

The secret to racing like this is keeping a good average pace, keep paddling, don’t take too many breaks and don’t accelerate your paddling, consistency is the magic word. After about 12 hrs your muscles will all start to hurt. Then it is a question of finding a good pace to keep going and bite through the pain at the same time you are paddling in such a exceptionally beautiful place and as remote, mostly only you the mountains, the trees and the river.
A race like this is an adventure and an absolute challenge against yourself. A pure battle about you wanting to quit , lay down and rest but you mind is not willing, too stuborn and too proud. The finish is even sweeter because we have all gone very deep to get here deeper than most people will ever go. I spend the day there seeing other paddlers arrive. Walking around in Dawson is crazy it resembles a wild gold digger town and a scene of wild western movie only this is real life. It was also Canada day so we took part in the parade through the small town and went to the prize giving.
The Yukon is a very special race where taking part, meeting fellow paddlers and and paddling the remote back country are more important than winning. The prize money is a sweet bonus on top which can be invested in more expedition gear.

Next adventure for Bart De Zwart

Next on the cards for the Dutch / Hawaiian rider is the Yukon 1000 with team mate Ike Frans, by far the longest paddle race in the world. A race where only 15 teams (a mix of canoe , SUP, kayak) will start this race. This year the race has 3 SUP teams signed up with the team consisting of two paddlers who have to stay together.  The Yukon 1000 will start in Whitehorse in Canada and will finish in the Daltan Highway Bridge in Alaska, taking about 8 days. Each team taking an obligatory stop and making camp between between 23:00 and 5:00 every day.

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