SUP 11-CITY TOUR
Held in Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, the SUP 11-cities, is a unique race held over five days which covers over 220km! We caught up with event founder Anne Marie Reichman Totah and head of Social Media, Marije Elgersma to find out how the tour got started and what to expect if you plan to experience this legendary race.
Words: Anne Marie Reichman Totah and Marije Elgersma. // Photos: Mayola Dijksman, Yahnny San Luis and Nynke Bakker.
Anne Marie Reichman Totah
“I stopped competing on the PWA windsurfing tour by the end of 2007 and I was at a bit loss of what to do next. In February 2008 I first discovered SUP, firstly in the waves and then I jumped into the downwind season in Maui. Loving the endurance side of the sport, it brought me a lot of excitement doing the crossings between the islands. I decided I wanted to take this accessible sport to the Netherlands and after much brainstorming, I decided to SUP the same route as the legendary Dutch ice-skating race and Windsurf 11 city tour!
I had a vision that people from all around the world would paddle the Frisian waters, experiencing the endurance of the tough flat Frisian lands, where reeds protect you from the wind and where cows, sheep and windmills look at you for hours before you paddle into the next city.
I loved being part of events over the years and now I wanted to host an event myself and give something back, as well as share our culture and this unique experience as well. As the idea for the event became stronger and I decided to form a non-profit organisation to support me in my mission and vision. I first paddled the route on my own in 2008, and my personal achievement over the five days would be a good test run, as well as helping to gain some of my own answers on how I should set up the event.
Then, the game of creating an event started up. Being a pro athlete, I had plenty of media contacts, so for 2009 I went to work to spread the word internationally! I scored some decent media attention on my personal paddle of the 11 cities and had a great foundation to build upon.
Luckily, I had a lot of friends in the professional SUP athlete world, so I started contacting them to come experience and compete. I needed to spread the word. The rest of the puzzle was fun but also a hardworking challenge. From my experience of the windsurfing 11 city tour I saw and learned how the crew worked. The athletes received a massage every day and there was a 15-minute rest break during a full day of sailing. I picked out my favourite elements of the event that I had enjoyed.
In the meantime, I needed to promote SUP! I held clinics throughout Holland to promote the event through media outlets and social media to find funding and sponsors, which resulted in an endless search, lots of meetings and hundreds of hours on the computer researching and answering emails. I had my think tank group, being the non-profit members to help. I also had some solid older crew, mainly family and friends, who had enough experiences in fields to back me up and make sure the event had a solid safe foundation.
At the time, I was living in Hawaii, doing all my work on Maui in between my three visits a year to the Netherlands. Back at home, I would run around like a crazy woman attending meetings and making sure I would speak to people in person! I remember receiving the funding from the local government in August 2009 with the event starting a mere three weeks later with the first invitational.
To maintain an event of this magnitude it is a massive amount of work – more than I could ever imagined. Throughout the entire year there are tasks to be done; from finding new sponsors to maintaining the funding and income from partners already tied to the event. There are permissions and permits to organise. As we roam through the north of the Netherlands during the five days, we stop over in different areas with our crew of 250 to 300 people – including volunteers. Logistics, communications with crew, athletes, media, having your good and bad weather plans which all have to be organised. During each year we are also looking into the organisation of the following years event! It is a perpetual process. To maintain an event like this, you have to work really hard, but you also need to grow and improve in certain areas, which is always the ambition, but it takes even more effort.
WHAT TO EXPECT
At the beginning we welcome all the athletes! If you are a first timer, you will see that everyone seems to know each other and gets along like a house on fire, and you may feel a little left out! Don’t worry, that only lasts a day. When you start your journey on the water it soon becomes a bonding experience. You will most likely find people who paddle at the same speed as you! You will complain together, how long it takes to reach the finish, but you will also enjoy every moment as the experience is so unique! You will experience being tired, then getting over it, pushing through it and then you may feel some superhero sensations as you reach that finish you thought was unobtainable.
At the finish you can receive a massage, you eat Frisian dried sausage (a real cultural treat) and then the banter starts as you talk hero and battlefield stories with each other! There are also food trucks that roam with the event, which also offer great coffee and snacks.
Days two, three and four will be different, but there is one thing in common… at the starting line of each day, you feel your body aching and you feel your sore hands! Within 30 minutes you forget those aches and pains as you continue on a new adventure in beautiful Friesland, where the special water culture greets you. There are stops along the way that provide you with food, water, music and happy volunteers! The weather can be anything, which most people in the UK are used to, that is all part of the challenge.
If you enter the event, you will paddle 48km, 44km, 41km, 42km and finally 27km on the last day!
Or if you sign up for the nonstop version, you can paddle for an exhausting 36 hours through the day, night and the next day, if that’s your cup of tea! When you finish your paddle, you will eat and sleep on authentic Frisian sailing boats, which are rented by the organisation. These are your moving 3-star hotel There are showers, toilets, kitchen and beds on board. Some boats offer more luxury than others. The boats work really well because your belongings are waiting for you on board. You can cook your own food, if and when you prefer not to eat the food provided by the organisation. Breakfast is on the boats, in the morning, so it really is your home! Although you are sharing with around 18 other people, who rent the same boat. Again, this is a great bonding experience!
These are longer distances than normal for the average paddler. Most long distant races are 10km . So, most days we are paddling four times more! You need to be able to push yourself much further than you are used to, but everyone is in the same boat. When you start each day, you will race towards the halfway resting station (where you get 15 minutes rest, and you have time to quickly eat and refill your supplies) and then you are into the 2nd half of the day stage! It can be a mental game! You need to be able to break it up in your mind to keep your overall mental game strong. As a first-time experience it can be overwhelming, but it is also the best one, as you never get a second chance for that first impression of the whole tour. My motto is ‘When you can paddle half, then you can paddle it all!’. Let us say the longest stage is 48km, then you should at least have done a 24km paddle a few times. But, also, if possible, throw in a day of training in there that is 6 to 8 hours paddling around a month out from the event! It is a good idea to test your body, your hands, your hunger and your desire and see how you recover.
I used the ice-skating model where the elite are in it to win it, while there are also categories for all levels of participation. We have quite a few different competition categories. You can enter with the elite women or men, which are the only categories with prize money. There are 40-year-old plus and 50-year-old plus categories for the older or more mature paddlers. There is also the tour division where you can paddle at your own pace without competing, which is a lot of fun as well! The tour division has their own stations to rest so they don’t interfere with the competition. It is something we had to include since the resting stations became too busy and hard to handle.
I would say a 14-foot hardboard is my recommendation for the 11-city tour. Most riders use a 14-foot board. Competing the entire event, it gets frustrating when you are on a 12’6″ doing the hard work and the 14-foot boards pass you all the time. I had a 23-inch-wide board this year – from what I thought was pretty ok, but then the 20.5-inch boards go a tad faster if you are happy to balance on a narrower board. The first few days can be choppy with lakes to pass and rougher water, so it is down to your skill level. Day’s three, four and five are less hectic in general where narrower boards are becoming more favourable.
My solo accomplishment in 2008 stays extremely special to me. With my mum helping me out, my windsurfing friends coming to visit me along the route, eating homemade pancakes and looking at the map on some not too familiar tracks where to go. The first adventure was special.
2009 was special as everyone from different parts of the world wanted to come and be part of it! It was the year of invitationals. To see how everyone experienced it and bonded with each other for life was amazing and that has been a theme of the SUP 11-City tour.
2010 was the real first year where we had an exponential growth and more international top paddlers. We had great sponsors, a VIP launch, awesome weather and the Red Bull music Hummer; it was the real deal.
2011 was awesome because I felt I raced the hardest I ever had, almost at the point of throwing up and became first woman.
After becoming a mum, 2018 was the first year I completed the entire 11 cities again after a break.
That was a special one where Janneke Smits, Joanne Hammilton Vale and myself picked up trash the entire route. The event became more for the planet and others than just for myself, which I feel goes hand-in-hand with motherhood.
2019 was also very memorable because I entered the non-stop edition. That was an amazing experience for me. I loved paddling through the night, again there was adventure of something new to experience! I almost didn’t make it, but then I flew over the finish after gaining new energy for that last 18 km.
2022 was also a very fun edition for me as I had previously decided not to be there, but I decided at the last minute to attend anyways. Then everything was a bonus, and the energy was awesome.
I expect this year to be busy on the water again like 2022. I also hope that by the time comes around that all the countries will be free to travel again. I think the local riders will hit it hard as this is their home event. There is a real exciting drive for everyone to come show and do their best at the end of the season at the 11-city tour.
I am a dreamer when it comes to event co-ordination, and I always love to add an extra energy to the tour where I can. Musicians are welcome again in 2023. SUP clinics which would be organised to give back to the community are also on my to do list. Also, I’m open to anything cultural or traditional which adds to what is an already awesome event – that would be awesome too!
One thing to look out for it is the crew of volunteers! They work hard, they play hard, they are good at what they are doing; they do it with a smile and everyone is family!
See you there!
“I was persuaded in 2013 to sign up for the SUP 11-City Tour. I trained a lot, didn’t know what to expect, but I loved it. I learned a lot about endurance sport, and I had never done something like that before.
After that edition Anne-Marie Reichman Totah called me and asked me to join the board. I became the contact for all the athletes and that led to also running the social media. So, from then on, I created with the photographers and videographer the content for the tour. The team has been growing from just three during the first years. We are now a team of eight, plus students from the university in Leeuwarden. From our first live show in 2018 until hopefully a ‘Tour de France’ show in 2023. Christopher Parker has been dreaming of doing this for years and I think 2023 will be the year. The 15th anniversary is coming up!
I normally wake up around 6:30am. First thing is going upstairs on our ‘mother ship’ for a coffee, yes you need that on those days! Most of the time there are already some volunteers awake as well. Starting up by ’scrolling’ through our content, checking in with the media crew and talking through again the plan for the upcoming day.
Because I’m a board member, I usually check in with Kiki and Ritske, the other two board members, that everything is set for the day. Prior the skippers meeting I do the podium moment for the fastest paddlers in their category of the previous day. If I know some background stories, I’ll try to mention it, so it’s a bit more than calling out the times.
After all the starts, I start moving in the car with my colleagues from the media, so we can create stories on our social media channels and for the overall day video. I’m always on standby in case there is something happening along the route. This is the case for the whole board.
With the Soundbox speaker we try to cheer up all the athletes on the water, after paddling those km’s you know music can help you to paddle to the finish. We do try to be at ‘secret’ bridges, to be a surprise and create those smiles on the faces. When the first athletes are finishing, I make sure there is a least one photographer and videographer ready to capture the moment.
The food trucks in the SUP Village provide everyone with food and that finishes around 7:00pm, but then it’s not over yet. The media team is in full force to edit all the footage and to get it out there, so everyone around the world can see what happened that day and the athletes will be able to share their moments.
Because the weather in SUPtember in The Netherlands can vary anything from scoring, sunny and hot to rainy and cold days. We seriously had (2021) the first two days 30 degrees and ended up around 17-20 degrees for the last three days. It can be windy, rainy or no wind it all. So, it’s really good if you have the opportunity to train in all those conditions. Bring clothing that covers the above weather circumstances. Layers are the key!
Since the beginning of the event in 2009 the athletes that stay with us are sleeping on old sailing boats. Cosy rooms, where you share the room with fellow athletes in bunkbeds. This is where you can share stories around the big dining table and can have breakfast with the sun coming up on the deck! New since 2022 is that we also have the option to stay in holiday houses, with more space, but still with fellow athletes! Staying with us, makes it easier to connect with all the people from around the world. We know that long time friendships have been created on the water during paddling.
In general, I just love the Non-Stop version of the SUP 11-City Tour, especially the night, where I usually see the athletes around the time where it starts to get dark. The next time I see them is then in the middle of the night and the ones that paddle slower are not seen until towards sunrise. Those moments are magical, to get them through the night together with their support team is something you would need to experience.
The entries are open until a week before the event starts and you can register through the website: www.sup11citytour.com Once you have entered, you will need to train. You can train on distance, but also finding what you like to eat during the day is important. Also, which board suits you and check the length of the paddle. Connecting with your local SUP School can also help, they will assist you out with the training for the endurance races and can help make a program for you. If you don’t have one in your area, you can always contact us, and we’ll arrange something!”