Winning Yukon 1000 SUP division: Blackfish Rider Brad Friesen shares his experience

“When I’m in the zone… pain doesn’t seem so bad and my mind is clear and focused,” says Blackfish Paddles Rider Brad Friesen who has just won the Yukon 1000 SUP division completing the challenge in 7 days and 6 minutes, as part of the Pirates of the Yukon squad where he teamed up with Scott Baste for this epic challenge.

TotalSUP caught up with Brad, an awe-inspiring endurance paddler based in Manitoba, Canada, to chat about his experience and how Yukon 1000 stacks up against the Yukon River Quest (YRQ), yet another ultra-endurance challenge he’s completed in his ever growing SUP racing portfolio!

Hi Brad, welcome to TotalSUP! This is not your first ultra-endurance SUP race rodeo – Why the extreme?

Great question. I love all of the challenges that one encounters during an ultra-endurance race. Not only do these races test your paddling skills, but they also test your expedition skills such as navigation, camping, reading water, etc.

There are also the mental challenges that one must face. Your mind has plenty of time to wonder. I find that when I’m fully immersed in paddling I’m able to go into a flow state where I become super focused on not only my paddling, but also on my surroundings, the river, the mountains, the wind, and so on. When I’m in the zone, time can speed up, pain doesn’t seem so bad, and my mind is clear and focused. It’s a hard to describe feeling, but feels great once you go there.

I also love how most ultras take place in some pretty amazing places, especially the Yukon River. Photos and videos that you see online don’t do it justice – It’s a place that you need to experience for yourself.

Brad Friesen smashed the inaugural Mississippi River 140 race – 135 miles in 20 hours 9 minutes – just before the Yukon 1000!

What was the pre-race atmosphere like at the camp?

Getting to the start line was a bit stressful. I had experienced some major flight delays getting to Whitehorse but I was able to relax and rest up once I arrived in Whitehorse with all of my gear.

During the last couple of days leading up to the race, I felt a constant sense of cautiousness and also nervousness. Cautious in the sense that I didn’t want to get sick. There were several teams who had to withdraw from both YRQ and Yukon 1000 due to COVID. I felt gutted for SUP Team Shac (Scott Skip Innes and Craig Sawyer) who had to withdraw the day before the race due to one of them testing positive for COVID. For them it was definitely a hard pill to swallow, but after chatting with them after the race, it sounds like they were able to turn lemons into lemonade and had an amazing trip exploring the Yukon and Alaska. I can’t wait to see them come back and finish the race next year!

The day before the race was the mandatory safety briefing and gear check. This was a great opportunity to meet some of the other paddlers. There was also a feeling of excitement and nervousness amongst the group. Ultimately I just wanted to get on the water and start paddling.


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YRQ vs Yukon 1000… How would you describe it?

Yukon River Quest (YRQ) is more of a sprint and Yukon 1000 more of an expedition. In all seriousness, although they share the same course, they’re both very different races. They’re both extreme and remote, but Yukon 1000 takes YRQ up several notches. Once you get up north past Dawson City, there’s nothing, and I mean nothing up there. It’s quite remarkable.

Some differences between the two races, well for starters there’s the distance and gear requirements. For the Yukon 1000 all teams must be entirely self-sufficient and carry all of their gear and 10 days worth of food. There’s absolutely no outside support or resupplying allowed. This can really weigh your board down, so it’s important to pack smart and only bring what you will use. Whereas for YRQ (besides the mandatory gear) you really only need to carry enough to get you to the next checkpoint where your support crew can then help you out. So your board won’t be as loaded up during YRQ.

For the Yukon 1000 you’re required to paddle with a partner as a team. This was a new experience for me as typically when you do an ultra on a SUP you’re paddling solo. Finding a partner can be tricky as there aren’t too many people out there who would be up for doing a race like the Yukon 1000, especially on a SUP. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to partner up with legendary SUP endurance paddler Scott Baste. I learned a lot from Scott while preparing for and during the race. He’s a great guy and excellent paddler with plenty of experience and stories from his past. We worked very well together. Random side note – the first time I met Scott was on the Yukon River. I was on a family canoe trip and he was racing in the Yukon 1000. Scott and his partner Chip Walter pulled in to camp for the night on the same beach where my family and I happened to be camping.

The total number of participants in each race is also different. This year YRQ had well over 100 people participate in the race, whereas the Yukon 1000 had 21 teams (42 people) hit the starting line. This makes a big difference once teams pass Lake Laberge and start to spread out over the course. You’re more likely to encounter another paddler during YRQ than you will on the 1000. In the 1000 SUPs also start one day earlier than the canoes and kayaks so that also contributes to the loneliness factor on the river.

After our first day during the Yukon 1000, we only encountered one other race team during the remainder of the race. That was when the overall race winners Team Bend blew by us. It was awesome when they eventually caught up to us as we got to chat with them for a few minutes. We shared stories about how their race was going and how some of the other teams were doing. Made us feel like we were part of a race again.

Another key difference between both races is the rest factor. During YRQ you’re only required to stop for a minimum of 10 hours at designated checkpoints. Most SUP paddlers will reach the first rest stop (Carmacks) after paddling for at least 24 hours so you tend to push your body harder to get there.

Whereas on the Yukon 1000, you’re required to stop every night for a minimum of 6 hours. Realistically though we likely only averaged about 3 hours of sleep each night after taking care of all our camp duties (setting up, breaking camp, eating, etc.). But it’s amazing how just a little bit of sleep actually rejuvenates you. Combine that with a hot cup of coffee in the morning and you’re good to go!

What was the toughest, most challenging moment of the race?

We faced many challenges during the race. There are the obvious challenges such as fighting off sleep deprivation and dealing with the added stress that you put your body through, but there were also some additional challenges that came up.

For example, finding suitable camping spots was tough this year due to the high water levels. Many sandbars and even a lot of the shoreline were still underwater. Any exposed shoreline or beaches that we encountered were still very water saturated. When we got out to scope a potential site we typically had to walk through quicksand before getting to a dryer area. Often we’d set our drybags down on the ground only to find that water would pool up around them after a few minutes. This was not ideal for setting up a tent and staying dry. Finding solid dry ground was a rare commodity during this trip. On one night we actually ended up setting up our tents on top of our boards so that we would stay dry. This ended up working out quite well as our tents and sleeping bags fit nicely into the dugout design of our boards.

The high water and increased flow also made ferrying across the river more challenging. The river can be very wide in some stretches and if you didn’t start angling to the side of the river or time your ferry you would end up working very hard, or missing your target altogether. Our motto was to go with the flow, not to fight the river and to let it do the work for us, but on occasion we would need to work extra hard to get across to a potential campsite or different route through a particular stretch.

We also encountered thick wildfire smoke up in Alaska that greatly reduced visibility at times. We ended up wearing our smoke masks to help protect our lungs from inhaling too much smoke. I had also brought along some eye drops that offered some relief for dry eyes.

At what point did you know that you are going to smash it?

Honestly we never knew for sure. It’s such a long race and anything can happen at any point, whether that be a sudden change in weather, an injury, or simply making a bad judgement in route navigation.

Going into the race our goal was to win the SUP division. We knew that we needed to be the first SUP team to cross Lake Laberge. If we could be first across the lake, we felt confident that we could win the race.

As previously mentioned, we only ever saw one team that passed us so we really had no idea how far any of the other teams were behind us. We had a feeling that one of the other SUP teams, Ella Oesterholt and Janneke Smits of Team Yukon SUPventure Ladiesweren’t too far behind and it turns out we were right. They put up a battle right to the very end. We ended up finishing 1.5 hours ahead of them but with a race this long I would call that a photo finish!

From left: Scott Baste & Brad Friesen (Team Pirates of the Yukon), Janneke Smits & Ella Oesterholt (Team Yukon SUPventure Ladies) and Team Freefall Paddles

How did the Blackfish Paddles perform?

Flawlessly. I brought along two Blackfish Paddles with me for the race: a Viento and an adjustable Andaman. I started the race using the Viento, which is my go-to paddle for all races that I do. I love how light this paddle is and how solid it feels throughout the entire paddle stroke. It truly is an amazing paddle.

For the last third or so of the race I switched over to using an adjustable Andaman as I wanted to switch up to a longer paddle shaft with a bit more flex. The Andaman is a very smooth paddle and I find it easier on the body than the Viento. The added length of the adjustable paddle meant that I could paddle in a more upright and relaxed stance. At this point in the race, we also weren’t paddling as hard, so a more aggressive paddle wasn’t needed.

What are your SUP hacks to excelling Yukon 1000, YRQ and other ultra-endurance SUP races?

One of the biggest things you can do to excel in any ultra-endurance race is to be ready to adapt your plans and shift on the fly. Sometimes you need to be able to think outside the box, or inside the dugout 😉 – when we chose to camp on our boards instead of quicksand.

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a hack, but if you want to do well in any ultra-endurance SUP race, you really need to know your systems and have them dialled in (gear, clothing, nutrition etc.). Bring only what’s necessary not only to keep the weight down, but also to keep things as simple as possible for yourself. Setting up a tent mid-week with minimal sleep is a lot harder than trying to set up that same tent at home in your backyard after a good night’s sleep. Practice and test your gear over and over again at home before your race. Think ultralight backpacking when choosing your gear. Leave the luxury items at home, this isn’t a glamping trip.

And I guess another tip that I have for anyone who is interested in ultras, especially one as long as the Yukon 1000, is to go out there, challenge yourself and get some experience. You can always start small with a shorter single day ultra-distance event, such as the Red River Paddle Challenge or Chattajack, and then work your way up to longer multi-day races as you gain experience.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need an official paddling event or race to challenge yourself. With a little creativity, you can challenge yourself just about anywhere. For example, last Summer a good friend and I decided to challenge ourselves right here at home in Manitoba. We paddled 170km down the Red River from the Canada/US border in Emerson straight through to the Forks in Winnipeg. The rules for this mission were simple: no sleeping, no stopping, just get to our target finish as soon as possible. We encountered challenging conditions that included thunderstorms, strong winds, low water, and more on our adventure. We continue to go on new paddle missions and have several more that we’d like to check off our list.

This is an excellent way to prepare for ultra-endurance races, especially if you can mimic a specific race that you would like to do. Just keep in mind that your body needs time to recover after each mission.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely! I would also love to see a Yukon 2000 take place!

Whoa! Thank you so much for sharing this remarkable achievement and we’ll be following your next SUP adventure!

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*Images courtesy of Brad Friesen

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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