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The SUP 11-City Tour covers a grueling 136 miles, making it by far the longest stand-up paddleboard race in the world. Divided into five daylong stages, it's the Tour de France of paddling, taking competitors through some of Holland's most scenic terrain.
Native Dutchwoman Anne-Marie Reichman, a professional windsurfer, followed the five-day route as a personal challenge in 2008, then took it to the masses in the first open event in 2010. The race route stems from a historical ice-skating path that farmers once took to create a round through Friesland, a province in northwestern part of the Netherlands.
It follows narrow canals—of mostly flat water—through "the pearls of Friesland," historical cities built from the 1700s. The loop begins and ends in Leeuwarden, traveling through Sloten, Workum, Franeker, Dokkum, and several smaller towns between. When you aren't ducking your head to pass beneath bridges, you can take in countryside views of windmills, open pastureland with sheep, cows, and horses, and forests.
Some 200 paddlers participated in the various stages of the 2013 race. Even more are expected for the 2014 event, which will take place September 3–7, particularly since organizers plan to vie for the Dutch record for the most stand-up paddleboarders on the water at a time.
"Elite participants need to be able to paddle hard five days in a row...This is demanding," says Reichman. "Athletes get meals and massages offered every day. However, a distance of 44 kilometers is tough, and then there are four more stages." For those in the elite category, the payoff is a solid test of performance and recovery, and preparation for the rest of the season.
Even if you're not an elite athlete, you can still enjoy this challenge by participating in the amateur category (which doesn't give out rankings). Form a two- to five-person team to take on different stages, or try out the weekend-only portions of the tour.
Along the route, you can lodge for the evening on an authentic Frysian sailing ship. You'll be bunking with up to 26 other participants, but as Reichman observes, "This is an experience in itself and participants bond throughout the entire event becoming family." Maybe a pep talk from a newfound family member will be just the thing to help you complete this epic challenge.
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