When Casper Steinfath recently told me about a “new adventure” he was planning, I was already excited before he’d even shared the details. The Danish Viking is one of those guys who embodies the spirit of paddling I admire most — a desire to push oneself in the name of curiosity.
In the old days, Casper would have been setting sail on ships for distant lands. In modern times, those who yearn to explore must contend themselves with unfamiliar ways to experience places already on the map. And that’s exactly what The Great Danish Paddle is all about.
Over the next 40-50 days, Casper will paddle all the way around his home country of Denmark in a voyage of some 1400 kilometres (870 miles for the metrically challenged). Paddling 6-8 hours a day and camping most nights, Casper will circumnavigate the entire country. That’s like doing the 11 City Tour seven times back-to-back or 28 lengths of the Chattajack course without a day off. It’s bloody long.
The feat is even more impressive considering Denmark shares a 70km land border with Germany, which will see Casper get creative in order to continue with his board in one unbroken loop. I’m told that a few canoe and kayak paddlers have paddled the length of the Danish coast in the past but nobody has done it standing up. But I presume Casper is the first paddler to ever go all the way around the country.
As I write this post, Casper will be standing on his hometown beach of Klitmøller (aka Cold Hawaii) looking out at the infamous North Sea. North-west Denmark is a forebodingly-beautiful stretch of coastline, sparsely populated and seductively dangerous. This will form the opening stretch of The Great Danish Paddle.
Given his proven talent on a paddleboard, Casper could easily complete this odyssey in a few weeks. But to borrow that old cliché, it’s all about the journey.
While every adventure big or small relies on feeding the ego, I clearly sense that Casper wants The Great Danish Paddle to be about something far greater than himself. He spoke with excitement of the people he expects to meet and the random side adventures he’ll likely experience along the way — “I look forward to testing myself against Mother Nature, but I equally also look forward to rediscovering my Danish backyard and meeting lots of Danes along the way” he wrote on the Insta announcement.
Casper’s board will be loaded with enough gear to complete the Yukon River Quest several times over. He’ll be camping on remote beaches and rendezvousing with his support team for resupplies. And while summer is fast approaching, Denmark is still bitterly cold: Klitmøller will enjoy a top of just 6 degrees today with an overnight low of 2 below freezing; the water temp is a bone-piercing 8 degrees (that’s 43, 35 and 46 degrees for our imperial friends). No wonder he’s wearing a dry suit.
The Great Danish Paddle was partly inspired by The Great British Swim that saw fellow Red Bull athlete Ross Edgley circumnavigate Britain (an incredibly impressive feat considering Edgley’s hulking physique). The odyssey also pays homage to those pioneering paddlers who looked beyond the finish line before the idea of SUP adventures was a thing. The likes of Bart de Zwart and his epic crossings come to mind. The Great Danish Paddle also reminds me of Chris Bertish’s Transatlantic Crossing in 2017. While Bertish’s feat was obviously far more dangerous, the sheer magnitude of the odyssey is similar. And just like that much-publicised project, I suspect Casper’s voyage will garner far more media attention than any of his race wins. That would reinforce the sense that ultra paddling has untapped potential to help grow our sport.
What I love about the ultras – whether it’s a race or a solo challenge – is the stories they produce, and I suspect we’ll hearing a lot more about Casper and The Great Danish Paddle over the coming weeks.
There’s a certain zen-like balance between Casper’s athletic and adventure career. The former, which was quite successful, focused on the shortest events possible – 200 metre sprints and beach races – while the latter has embraced the other extreme. Casper’s first big paddle was the 116km “Skagerrak” pilgrimage from Denmark to Norway, a crossing so difficult it took two attempts. The Great Danish Paddle continues that theme but takes it to a whole new level.
The Viking spirit lives on.