Stand up paddleboarding to debut at 2016 Yukon River Quest

For the first time in a decade, the Yukon River Quest has added a new category to its 715 kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Solo stand up paddleboarding will be added to the roster in 2016, as an experimental class exempt from prize money.

Paddleboards to join kayaks, canoes in annual 700 km race

Ten experienced stand up paddleboarders will have the opportunity to enter the 2016 Yukon River Quest. In this image, SUP Yukon owner Stuart Knaack shows paddleboarding technique. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

A new category of elite, masochistic athletes will be allowed to participate in Yukon's grueling, 715 kilometre river race next summer. 

The Yukon River Quest has added solo stand up paddleboarding to its 2016 roster. It's the first time in a decade that a new category has been added to annual the long-distance race from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

River quest spokesperson Jeff Brady says the new category is "experimental" and will be exempt from prize money. 

"We'll see how they do," he says. 

A scene from the 2015 race. In 2016, the shores of the Yukon River will be lined with canoes, kayaks, voyageurs... and paddleboards. (Meagan Dueling/CBC)

Brady says river quest organizers were approached by paddleboard racers who wanted to add the Yukon to their international race circuit. The popularity and the growth of the sport convinced board members to give them a chance.

"They're convincing us that they can do it and finish on time," says Brady. "If that's possible and if enough of them finish, they'll be added as a class [in 2017], an official class." 

World's longest SUP race?

It's hard to find another race on the stand up paddleboard race circuit that comes close to matching the mileage of the river quest. 

Brady estimates paddleboarders will travel at a speed comparable to solo canoeists. Last year's fastest "C1" finished the race in about 62 hours, not including a mandatory seven-hour strop in Carmacks. 

Sixty-two hours of paddling a canoe or kayak is strenuous enough. 

'I definitely think stand up paddleboards can compete,' says Stuart Knaack. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"That would be a long time to stay standing," admits Stuart Knaack, owner of Stand Up Paddleboard Yukon.

A racer himself who recently competed in Tennessee, Knaack says Yukon offers a "one of a kind" race venue for the international paddleboarding community. 

"Most [other races] are either way out in the middle of the ocean or you're going down a route that's heavily populated by people." 

Beyond its beauty, the river quest is sure to challenge the hardiest competitor.

"It's going to be tougher than what you're expecting," Knaack is telling his fellow paddleboarders. 

"I definitely think stand up paddleboarders can compete. Whether or not they can do what a canoeist or kayaker can do, we're about to find out."

Same safety rules apply 

Brady says, like all entrants, paddleboarders will be accepted on a case-by-case basis, based on ability and experience. During the race, they will have to carry all of the same mandatory safety gear as other vessels and meet all of the standard cutoff times. 

Brady hopes adding paddleboarders to the race will bolster overall interest in the event, which has seen its numbers drop recently. Last year, there were less than 60 entrants, which Brady says was a bit concerning. 

Registration in the 2016 river quest opened last week and so far 20 people have signed up in the various categories for kayak, canoe and voyageur canoe. The race starts on June 29.