Adventure of a lifetime
Haiku SUP endurance veteran de Zwart tackles 1,000-mile, eight-day race across Yukon wilderness
Bart de Zwart is no stranger to covering long distances with his stand-up paddleboard.
Just last year, the 48-year-old Haiku resident set a world record by covering 120.2 miles in a 24-hour period in Switzerland. He has done a four-day trip from Tahiti to Bora Bora in 2014, a paddle across the North Sea in 2012 and a five-day trek from the Big Island to Kauai in 2011.
But nothing compares to his latest achievement.
De Zwart, along with his race partner Ike Frans, completed the Yukon 1000 last week. Billed as the world’s longest canoe race, the biennial endurance competition includes a SUP division, and the Team Starboard pair was game to tackle the 1,000-mile course that starts in Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon territory and winds north to the finish inside the arctic circle at the Dalton Highway Bridge in Alaska.
“The last years, I have been racing most ultra-long distance paddle races on a stand-up in many places in the world,” de Zwart said via email. “If you do (those) kind of races, you want to do the longest one. There was my challenge.”
With the remoteness and untamed wilderness — bears are always a concern — competitors are required to race in two-person teams and are screened to ensure they can endure the challenge. De Zwart said organizers told him 17 teams were rejected, leaving just 15 teams allowed to compete.
De Zwart and Frans were one of three SUP teams in the field. They set off from Whitehorse on July 22, with de Zwart carrying about 80 pounds of food and gear on his Starboard All Star 14-feet by 24.5-inch board. When they made camp that first night at about 11 p.m., “we realized that it was going to be a grueling race,” de Zwart said.
Of course, they had to first check for bear tracks before pitching their tent and preparing their meals.
The race has a mandatory six-hour break from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day, so the pair decided that would be the maximum time they would use to rest and paddle the remaining 18 hours of the day. De Zwart said they would sleep for only about 3-4 hours, but “the routine worked well for us so we kept this for the next eight days.”
He said the concept of staying with a teammate was new to him, “but I enjoyed the company, the cooperation and the fact that you really had to completely race as a team. John, the race director, told us the day before the race about the rules but also about the risks and responsibilities involved in this race. The dangers of wildlife, hypothermia, heat exhaustion and the fact that you are days away from help if needed. So everything you do, you do with care, not overdoing anything or taking unnecessary risks.”
De Zwart and Frans are both from the Netherlands; de Zwart and his wife Dagmar have lived in Haiku for the last two decades, while Frans still resides in the Netherlands, in Schagen.
“Ike and I were a good team, we worked well together and instinctively felt when we had to adjust pace when one of us had a slower hour,” de Zwart said.
While the thought of spending over a week in the chilly Yukon wilderness might send a shiver down an islander’s spine, the weather wasn’t really a challenge for de Zwart.
“I have paddled in Greenland, South Pacific, northern Europe, Africa. You just have to adjust to the weather with your clothing,” he said. “To train and try out my clothing for the Greenland expedition I did a couple years back, I went to the top of Haleakala and slept open air in the back of my truck with the clothing I was going to wear. Preparation is everything.”
As they made their way north, de Zwart and Frans were surrounded by “stunning” scenery and saw all sorts of wildlife, including moose, beavers, eagles, bears and even a wolverine. But of all the things he came across during the race, de Zwart said it was actually the one thing he didn’t encounter that struck him the most.
“During the 1,000 miles, I haven’t seen one piece of plastic or garbage,” he said. “There are not many places like that in the world anymore.”
Finally, after 8 days, 1 hour and 42 minutes, the Starboard team reached the finish line on the morning of July 30, the first among the SUP duos. De Zwart and Frans then spent the next two days recovering and hanging out with the canoe teams as they waited for the remaining SUP pairs to finish.
“Apart from some damaged nerves in my finger and toes, my body is recovering well,” de Zwart said. “It is really astonishing what your body can do and that it even can recover during the race.”
For anyone interested in doing the race, de Zwart is encouraging but frank.
“If you ever want to do the longest race in the world and are ready for an adventure of a lifetime, then this race should be on your bucket list,” he said. “But be prepared and forewarned, it is very tough and the race organization does a good vetting process.
“The experience of this race is one of the best experiences I have ever done, but also one of the hardest.”
* Stefanie Nakasone is at firstname.lastname@example.org.