Picture this: a tiny country on the North Sea with an intricate web of inland waterways dominating the landscape, mostly in the form of canals.
The history of The Netherlands is the history of a people who built dams, dykes, dunes and canals to protect themselves from the North Sea. If you remember your 4th grade geography, you will know that two-thirds of Holland is well below sea level; their survival depends on their ability to control the sea.
Fryslan, the northern-most province, is home to the 11 Cities Tour. Traditionally a gnarly 24 hour race done on ice skates (weather permitting), 2009 would be the year that the race would be done on SUP boards.
This past September, Anne-Marie Reichman, the first person to solo this 220km/137mi course on a stand-up board in 2008, invited a group of athletes to come along and race together. The invitation was especially nice for us. My husband Mark Raaphorst is the owner of SIC, a Maui-based paddle sport company. He shaped the boards that we would use to race together in the country of his birth.
It promised to be a fantastic if not daunting experience.
The 2009 SUP 11 Cities Tour would last five days, each day beginning at 8:30 in the morning and finishing anywhere between 3-to-6pm. There was a mandatory 15 minute 'lunch stop' and that was the only break in the race. Each day the course was loaded with twists and turns and some pretty challenging weather and water conditions.
Our first day was the toughest. It began with a wrong turn taken by everyone within the first 10 miles which required some back tracking. It was also our windiest day with 20 knot headwinds for most of the 45km we would paddle. Add to that increased cross-winds as we ended the day crossing an exposed lake with 3’ high wind chop. Over the next few days, we would encounter more headwinds, cross-winds and the occasional tail wind. It also rained four out of the five days.
Fantastic? Absolutely! Most everyone was in very good condition for this test of endurance. The athletes came from Holland, Belgium, Spain, France, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. Each night we slept on a schooner that met us at the end of the day. Bountiful, healthy meals were provided, as well as massages for every athlete at the end of each day. All we had to do was race, enjoy the camaraderie and recover — the massages made that part easy.
We paddled through small farms, fields of sheep and cows, past windmills, through forests and cities. Everyone was as curious about us and our boards as we were of them. Local folks rode their bikes alongside us or waited on the many bridges to cheer us on, wave or hand us water and snacks.
So what at first seemed daunting actually wasn’t. It goes to show that with good training, good support, friends, laughter and a strong mind, you can accomplish anything you set out to do!
- Donna Badome-Raaphorst
For more information about SIC, go to paddlemaui.com. For more information about the 11 Cities Tour, go to supfryslan.nl.
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