1000 miles of paddling through “untouched wilderness”, 10 days to complete, 0 support, “unless your life is in imminent danger”. If these numbers don’t cut it and fully illustrate the extreme uniqueness of the Yukon 1000challenge, this quote does: “More people have been up Everest than have been beyond Dawson City”*
The Yukon 1000 race starts in Whitehorse, Canada and follows the route of the Klondike goldrush, continuing down river all the way to the Alaska Pipeline Bridge on the Dalton Highway, 1000 miles (1600 Kilometres) downstream. Only 40 teams (80 racers) successfully go through the application process to embark on this high-risk adventure in hope to join “the elite few who have conquered the world’s longest paddle race.”
In the run up to Yukon 1000, TotalSUP caught up with Craig Sawyer of Team SHAC Yukon 1000, the first all UK SUP Team (comprising of Craig Sawyer and Scott Skip Innes, Co-Founder of a Surrey-based, outdoor adventure company The SHAC), to dive deep into this remarkable endeavour, discuss the “why” behind it and choosing the Yster Linear, a 17’3″x 26″ unlimited inflatable paddleboard, developed for long distance touring by Yster SUP, a premium Swedish SUP brand.
As a film production business Owner, Craig’s work has been taking him around the world and stand-up paddleboarding seemed like a great way to explore local areas in his spare time – from paddling up the Hudson in New York to racing around Necker Island. It wasn’t until a kitesurfing injury in 2016 where he tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) when SUP became a big part of his rehab and eventually led Craig to become a SUP Instructor himself and discover the competitive side of the sport.
Craig Sawyer of Team SHAC Yukon 1000
Hi Craig, welcome to TotalSUP! Wow, Yukon 1000, the world’s toughest survival and endurance race… Why this one of all super gnarly ultra-endurance challenges?
That’s a very good question! I’m not entirely sure how the conversation started, but back in 2019 we were looking to challenge ourselves. Scott Skip Innes and I started looking up distance SUP races, came across the 11 Cities, then the Yukon River Quest, I think it was billed as ‘the second longest paddle race’ in the world. We both looked at each other, and said ‘if this is the second longest, what’s the longest?’ and a Google search later and we were on the Yukon 1000 website. By chance, entries for the 2020 race were open, we applied, and the rest they say is history!
The race tagline is “Pure Isolation / Total Exhaustion / Self Survival” – What’s so appealing about the extreme?
For me, it’s about truly discovering what we are capable of – it’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone and discovering just what is on the other side. It’s all too easy to aimlessly wonder on autopilot through our lives without constantly looking to challenge ourselves. And it just felt right for me, now was the time to do something that truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
How do you prepare for it?
One of the first things I did once we were accepted to race was sitting down with my Personal Trainer, Dave Draper. I’ve trained with Dave for many years, and I knew that I needed someone that could build me a program and hold me accountable. We’ve worked on strength and conditioning, mobility and building the aerobic base. We also started increasing our SUP sessions; although being on the South Coast of the UK we were limited a little by what waterways we have around us. Our stomping ground became the River Arun, which is incredibly tidal, so you had a window of opportunity to get the most from the river and its flow. The organisers were keen to point out that you ‘should not try to do the race before the race’ – on the Yukon 1000 you are paddling for 18 hours a day, but there is a little benefit burning yourself out trying to do this before the event. So water training was all about getting accustomed to being comfortable being uncomfortable, discovering that certain gloves caused blisters after a few hours, refining nutrition strategies and more.
Mental preparation for me has been all about making sure that I feel confident that we have thought and planned about as much as we possibly can do – make a plan, and be ready for the plan to change at any moment! I’ve read countless books about the Yukon, the history, the people. I’ve studied maps, both hand drawn and satellite images. I’ve trawled web pages, looking to glean any info, tips and advice that may help. Also spending time ‘war gaming’ – thinking of all the things that could go wrong; and having a plan and practicing that plan. What if I fall in? What if Skip falls in? What if we get a puncture? What if we encounter a bear? What if a paddle breaks?
You have a very specific approach to what your roles built around your skills…
Spreadsheets, organised documents, meal plans, kit weighing, kit logistics, creating maps, optimising the very little tech we’re allowed (GPS, no two way comms), has kept me busy. I’ve treated it as one big experiment when it comes to food, water and training. I’ve collected water from the most stagnant dirty lake to make sure our water purification and filtration plans work, I’ve been eating ration pack foods while training to make sure there are no GI surprises etc.
I do feel my skill sets have been best used in the build up to the race, and Skip’s unique skillsets around mental toughness, bushcraft and outdoor survival will take over when we reach Whitehorse. Having said that we are also ensuring we cross-skill; There is no point in Skip being the guy that can quickly build a fire if he is the one that has fallen in and needs to warm up quickly before hypothermia sets in!
Facing the elements… What could be the biggest challenges in your opinion? Is there anything that you are particularly concerned about?
The wildlife! Living in England, we have never had to deal with bears! Beyond the wildlife, I think the biggest challenges will be around the mental resilience to paddle for 18 hours, stop for 6 hours, then go again for up to 10 days. If you think about it that way, it will be tough – so instead we will be breaking each day down into small victories – looking ahead to completing each map page, giving ourselves a 5 minute rest after a few hours to enjoy something sweet or savoury etc. The small victories will soon mount up. We are also mindful that this year the snow levels are even higher than last year, and last year the snow melt caused ‘once in 200 years’ river levels that resulted in the cancellation of the Yukon River Quest, and this year has the potential to be even bigger, depending on how spring pans out. A high fast flowing flooding river causes all sorts of new challenges, unstable banks, log jams, hidden obstacles and lack of camping options.
Could you tell us about your collaboration with Yster SUP?
With the 2020 and 2021 race cancellations, we’ve had plenty of time to work on kit, but in December 2021 we were still stuck on board selection. Initially we were looking to ship out a small container with 14” x 28.5 hard touring boards. Then, after the 2020 race was cancelled we started training on 14” x 25.5” hard race boards and started to think they would be a better choice (the race has a minimum width of 24”). Then, due to the pandemic, shipping costs went through the roof so we went back to looking at renting boards from the outfitters in Whitehorse.
There were options originally to rent boards that are hired out for the Yukon River Quest, that would have some attachments for gear etc, but for a number of reasons these rentals were no longer available to Yukon 1000 racers.
We started to think about iSUP’s and knew these had been used before (with success), and then, a few days before Christmas a TotalSUP article appeared, with a review of the Yster Linear. We quickly dropped Per Valbo, Founder of Yster SUP, an email, told him about our situation, the race, and asked if he would support us putting the ultimate distance board through the ultimate distance race, and to our happiness he was onboard!
You have chosen a very particular board model for this adventure, the Yster ISUP 17’3″x 26″ Linear. Could you tell us more about this choice and its key features that made you pick it?
When we first read the specs and features of this board, it was as if we had written a wish list for the perfect Yukon 1000 board. Long enough and with enough volume to take us and all our kit, narrow enough to be stable, but fast, a front tracking fin, portable enough to be able to train with it in the UK and take it to Canada and back from Alaska, and built strong enough to withstand the ultimate in distance and endurance touring.
When the first board arrived we took it out for a paddle on the river and were surprised at just how fast and agile it was and the glide is incredible too. It was great to finally know one of the last (and one of the most important) pieces of the Yukon 1000 kit preparation was complete.
Thank you very much for your time and good luck with this incredible endeavour – Stay safe and have an epic adventure!
“I love the event format: It’s a race with no finish line, only your physical and mental endurance determine where your finish line is,” said Per Vallbo, Founder and CEO of Yster SUP, a premium Swedish SUP brand based in Malmo, which is The Last Paddler Standing official board partner. TotalSUP caught up with Greg Wingo, […]
With the 2022 ICF SUP World Championships fast approaching, TotalSUP caught up with Per Vallbo, Founder and CEO of Yster SUP, a premium Swedish SUP brand based in Malmo, to chat about the Yster SUP Team and the demo board quiver available at this flagship event held on the 7-11 September. The brand’s presence in Gdynia […]
“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 […]
“I know that Janneke Smits and Ella Oesterholt of Team Yukon SUPventure Ladies , were prepared to the teeth which involved putting their inflatable Yster iSUP 17’3”x 26” Linear boards to the test in different conditions. The boards were their ultimate lifelines between the race start at Whitehorse to the finish at Dalton Highway Bridge so the boards just had […]
“The races that really touched our hearts are the races that included a healthy share of suffering.” When a statement of this calibre comes from a duo with competitive paddle background in white water rafting, you know they mean business. With more teams arriving in Yukon to “join the elite few who have conquered the […]
The countdown is on to Yukon 1000, “the world’s toughest endurance and survival race” taking its paddling contestants through 1000 miles of “untouched wilderness” with zero support available. In the run up to this equally unforgiving and epic challenge, TotalSUP caught up with Scott ‘Skip’ Innes of Team SHAC Yukon 1000, the first all UK SUP Team […]
Ce n’est pas n’importe quelle course de SUP Race que prépare Samuel Vauthier sur sa Starboard Allstar, avec son binôme Nicolas Fayol de la Team French Paddler : la Yukon 1000 ! Yukon comme le fleuve d’Amérique du Nord Yukon, qui part du Canada avant de traverser l’Alaska. 1000 comme 1000 miles, soit environ 1600km […]
The Red Bull Midsummer Vikings challenge is one of the most talked about events in the SUP calendar offering a unique and inclusive SUP experience for paddlers to race as a team for 24 hours in a row – both night and day – around the Amager Island in Copenhagen. The person behind this venture […]
At the Swedish SUP Championship in 2019, Yster SUP Team Rider Maya Persson took no less than three gold medals on her Yster SUP 14’x24″ Naked Carbon. Since then, Yster SUP, a Swedish premium SUP brand – has further fine-tuned the shape and design of the board to improve its glide and directional stability. TotalSUP […]