444 Miles: The Yukon River Quest Is Now Open to Stand Up Paddlers

 
Yukon River Quest

So who’s up for a long distance race? I mean a really long distance race? I’m not talking about Chattajack or Molokai. Those aren’t even a warm-up. And the 11 Cities? C’mon, you can do that in 24 hours…

If you really want a challenge then a new event has just been crowned the “World’s Longest (Annual) SUP Race” – the Yukon River Quest in the far north of Canada. At 715kms (that’s 444 miles), the Yukon River Quest is less of a race and more of a downright mission through the sub-Arctic wilderness.

The event is also known as the “Race To The Midnight Sun” because it takes place in the middle of summer, when the days are pretty much endless in that part of the world. That midnight sun will surely come in handy seeing this race takes anywhere from 44 hours (this year’s winning time) to 74 hours (the cut off time for finishing). Yes, you could be racing for more than three days

For those not familiar with the Canadian wilderness, the Yukon is kind of like Canada’s answer to Alaska. Indeed, the Yukon territory borders America’s outlier state and enjoys many similar characteristics: Freezing cold water and nobody around for miles, along with millions of acres of beautiful and pristine wilderness. Oh and it has a really long river too.

The 2016 edition marks the first time SUPs have been allowed to compete in the Yukon River Quest. The event’s advisory board met just last week and agreed that 10 stand up paddlers could enter the 2016 race in an “experimental division” that may or may not be continued in the future.

And guess who was the first stand up paddler to enter the race… Yep: Bart de Zwart.

Bart, the best known crazy-endurance-distance paddler in the world of SUP, will be adding yet another very long feather to his cap. The Dutchman-turned-Maui-local has already won the 11 City Tour four times and the Muskoka River X race twice. Both of those events are just over 200 kilometres (125+ miles).

The talisman of Team Starboard also recently finished runner-up in the 31 mile Chattajack marathon, though I’m assuming that was more of a sprint distance for Bart. He’s even completed a handful of solo/unsupported SUP crossings around the world that have been as long as 500 miles, so he’s well prepared for an ultra-endurance event like this.

I just spoke with Bart and he told me that Lina Augaitis had also signed up, along with the UK’s Joanne Hamilton-Vale, who completed this year’s 11 City Tour non-stop.

As of yesterday there was only 1 spot left available out of the 10 reserved for SUPs.

Bart de Zwart

Bart de Zwart knows a thing or two about long distance paddling – pictured here in Greenland back in 2013

So how long will this race take? The fastest solo finisher in the 2015 Yukon River Quest was 49 hours 29 minutes on a kayak. Stand up paddlers are generally slower than kayakers, so Bart will probably take more than 50 hours to complete the course. He’ll be racing on a 14 footer (the Starboard All Star 14′ x 25″ according to his blog).

The race goes downstream, so there is some support from the current, but that also means there’s patches of rapids and whitewater that would make any race difficult, let alone one this long.

The Yukon River Quest is serious stuff. The registration form on the official site states that ‘Teams should be equipped so they are self-sufficient for a couple of days if necessary … and should also be capable of immediate self-preservation,’ while all competitors have to fill in a “Paddling Resume” to prove they’re up to the task.

(Note the word “teams” above: Most competitors do this race in a tandem canoe or kayak, because doing it solo is considered pretty full on… Bart and his fellow stand up paddlers will be in the solo division.)

This won’t be the first time that stand up paddlers have been spotted racing along the Yukon though. In 2014, Chattajack founders Ben Friberg and Kimberley Sutton completed the Yukon 1000 race. The duo were the first SUP competitors ever allowed into that event, which, as the name suggests, stretches 1,000 miles (1,609 kms) across the Yukon territory and on into Alaska. Friberg also completed his famous 24 hour world record paddle (238 miles) down the Yukon.

Lina Augaitis has also paddled a large stretch of the Yukon River, completing it back in 2011 before she was a world beating racer. Lina is one of the 10 paddlers that will compete next year, just months after she gives birth to her first child. That’s pretty hardcore.

stand up paddling on the Yukon River

Kim Sutton and Ben Friberg competing in the 2014 Yukon 1000 (photo via Distressed Mullet)

The Yukon 1000 is easily the longest race in the world but it only happens every other year, which gives the Yukon River Quest the title of “Longest Annual Paddle Race”.

Coincidentally or not, the 2016 edition of the Yukon 1000 will take place just a few weeks after the Yukon River Quest, which means you could make a Yukon holiday of it and race 1,444 miles in less than a month. Any takers?

Interestingly, Canada is now home to the three longest SUP races in the world. Apart from the two Yukon events, the world’s third-longest SUP race is Canada’s Muskoka River X, which at 220kms is just a touch longer than Holland’s 11 City Tour (which ranges from 200-220kms in length, depending on who you ask).

All three of these Canadian races began as canoe/kayak races, with stand up paddlers jumping on board (pun intended) in recent years, which is kind of like how the SUP world piggybacked on prone paddleboard races in the early days of SUP racing in California and Hawaii. Is ultra-endurance stand up paddling the new frontier of SUP racing?

You can follow Bart’s journey towards the Yukon over on his blog. Good luck you crazy dude.