“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 world’s longest canoe race” (1000 miles to be completed in 10 days), TotalSUP caught up with endurance paddlers Janneke Smits and Ella Oesterholt of Team Yukon SUPventure Ladies , the all-girl SUP Team from the Netherlands who will attempt the Yukon 1000 challenge on 17’3”x26” Linear unlimited, inflatable touring boards designed by Yster SUP, a premium Swedish SUP brand based in Malmo.
Hi Janneke and Ella, welcome to TotalSUP! Why Yukon 1000 of all super gnarly ultra-endurance challenges?
After my world record attempt in 2018, Ike Frans called me when he was back home from his Yukon 1000 race. He enjoyed the Yukon so much, especially the wilderness and it’s (clean) beauty. He didn’t see any trash in the river. He thought that I would like that too. The Yukon 1000 was already on my bucket list but Ike’s phone call made me even more enthusiastic. Being disconnected from the rest of the world and only having nature around has attracted me even more.
In 2018 Joanne Hamilton Vale and I applied for participating in the Yukon 1000 in 2020. We were accepted! In March 2020 the organisation cancelled the race due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Joanne didn’t know if she could stay motivated for an other year so I asked her if was okay to look for an other female paddler to participate in the following Yukon 1000. That’s the moment and reason when Ella came up.
I was still a newbie in stand-up paddleboarding when I attended Bart de Zwart and Ike’s Yukon 1000 meet-up at our local beach club. They just finished their challenge and told their stories with a special spark in their eyes. The race was listed on my bucket list.
I’m critical who I paddle out with as safety is an important asset. I knew only one stand-up paddler that I would follow blind. When Janneke asked me I could only say YES!
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The race tagline is “Pure Isolation / Total Exhaustion / Self Survival” – What’s so appealing about the extreme?
Janneke and Ella: This race is so much more than just paddling. Many paddle races are ‘forgotten’, a fun trip at that time, but not something directly remembered. The races that really touched our hearts are the races that included a healthy share of suffering.
Most people will choose the easiest way above the hard way. But the easiest way will not satisfy us and it will not make us stronger. When you need to work (hard) for something you will appreciate things much more. This race will be a hard one but also one of our greatest lessons in our lives.
How have you been preparing for it?
In Dutch we have a saying ‘you should not go over one night of ice’. Racing the Yukon 1000 is a logical next step for both of us. The paddle and gym training up to the race, physio-sessions and food preps are one. But most important training has been done way earlier.
Our journey together started about 15 years ago, paddling in a 6-man white-water rafting team. Within a season of training we qualified for the World Championships and from there we travelled around the word paddling at stunning places. Pretty successful, but the lack of white water in The Netherlands, and complexity to train resulted in changes in paddle sports.
Janneke: I quit rafting after my first daughter was born. I simply could not combine my family life with international rafting anymore. I started stand-up paddleboarding in 2013. After paddling long distance races for a few years I got interested in more challenging, ultra endurance events like the SUP11 City Tour non-stop, the Dordogne Integrale (the “normal” and the 350 editions), the 24hrs race in Spain and the 24hr world record attempt in 2018.
All ultra endurance races I combined with extra days of travelling and meetings with friends from the SUP community. These moments made every trip complete and special. So my preparations are of course focused on the race itself but also the time before and after. When I needed to find someone else to participate in the Yukon 1000 Ella seemed to be the perfect partner in crime. All our training sessions and trips were so much fun. I think that’s a very important part of this whole experience. For Yukon 1000 it means we need to be physically fit, being very well prepared in mapping, equipment, food etc. and maybe most important, being mentally prepared and ready to go!
Ella: My love and a bunch of skills for remote multi-day paddle trips was fired by my first Grand Canyon river trip. Being out for 25 days in the desert cold, navigating down an oar raft trough challenging rapids and battling gnarly headwinds. I loved the paddle challenge, life on the shore and camaraderie on and off the water.
Thankfully my friends thought the same, and luckily we managed to pull a 2nd lottery permit 2 years later. Off we went again, this time kayaking. My lessons learned in the canyon are my most valuable training in life. But only one of many others. I was lucky to work with a bunch of great people in my days as an outdoor instructor. Life, work and holiday trips equipped me to be ready for the race.
What are your roles during the expedition? Do you have a special focus based on your skills?
Ella: Janneke is the navigator. Always has been also during our rafting career. She is the mapping specialist and knows where to go. As a SUP shop owner, naturally paddle gear specialist and mentally the toughest of us.
Janneke: Ella will make sure we keep routines strict. Drinking, eating, camping, timing. No slacking. We take the shared responsibility to keep up the spirit. We hope our laughers will echo over the Yukon river from start to finish. We take things seriously and hope to give strong competition, a good laugh will fire us more.
Facing the elements… What could be the biggest challenges in your opinion? Is there anything that you are particularly concerned about?
Janneke and Ella: You can only finish if you take good care of yourself. Keeping our body flexible, fed and hydrated will be a challenge. You can’t paddle 14-18 hours a day to train for the Yukon 1000. We are curious how our body will react to on standing for 18 hours a day on a board. Furthermore it’s hard to say how we will go on with the lack of sleep. Time will tell.
Could you tell us about your collaboration with Yster SUP?
Janneke and Ella: We were looking for unlimited (inflatable) boards but they are hard to find. We saw a post from Craig Sawyer and Scott Skip Innes on their Yster boards and asked them about their experiences. We contacted Per Vallbo from Yster SUP and had a great chat with him about the Yukon 1000 challenge but also boards and SUP in general. Soon after that we were paddling our first km’s on the 17’3”.
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 key features that made you pick this board?
Janneke and Ella: Normally we are paddling on 14’ boards. But for a race like the Yukon 1000 we would like to have more length for a better glide. We also have more than enough space for our bags with food, clothes and other gear. Yster Linear performed supremely good with 40 kg of extra weight on it. Because the boards can have a pressure up to 26 psi it feels very stiff. Besides the performance the board also looks very good 😉
Thank you very much for your time and good luck with incredible endeavour – Stay safe and have an epic adventure!
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*All images courtesy of Janneke and Ella