Jason Bennett & The Yukon River Quest…on a SUP!

Jason Bennett & The Yukon River Quest…on a SUP!

A Quest is surely something that knights of the realm went on back in the time of King Arthur, right? In which case, arise Sir Jason of Bennett! Deep Cove local Jason was one of ten stand up paddleboarders taking part in the Yukon River Quest (the YRQ), the longest paddling race in the world at 715km. This was the very first year that SUPs were allowed to take part, so I caught up with Jason to find out how his Quest had gone, if he’d fought any dragons, or seen any fair ladies.

 

Deep Cove Kayak: CONGRATULATIONS! How are you feeling?!?

Jason Bennett: I’m still processing, but it has just been the most amazing experience. It feels unreal to be back in Deep Cove, but good to be home!

DCK: So what started this crazy adventure in the first place?

JB: I first heard of the YRQ back in November, in this CBC article – it caught my attention as it is the first year they have allowed SUPs to take part and I thought it sounded like an awesome thing to try and do. I thought about it for a week or so, and considered which I would regret more, doing it, or not doing it! I decided that I would regret not doing it more, so put my name down and decided to figure it out from there.

SUPs drafting canoes at the Yukon River Quest

Photo Cred: Julianne Stanford

DCK: And how long had you been paddleboarding before that?

JB: I actually started at Deep Cove’s Tuesday Night Race – my neighbour Warren suggested that my girlfriend Carmen and I join a race one night about 4 years ago. We actually did our first race in a double kayak (and nearly broke up in the process!!) but saw other people paddleboarding and thought it looked like fun, and would be healthier for our relationship!! Since then, we’ve never looked back.

DCK: Let’s get to it – tell us about the race! What was the start line like?

JB: Just insane! It was a running start, and our SUPs were on a sandbar away from the rest of the kayaks and canoes. Being a 715 km race I expected the start to be a bit more mellow – but as I got on my board and started paddling I could see Norm (Hann), Bart (de Zwart) and Lina (Augaitis) already ahead of me and I knew it was on! What started then was the craziest 10 hours of my my life. I paddled hard & caught Lina, cheered her on and then passed her. I drafted a double kayak for a while, and caught Bart and Norm. It was then full race pace for 10 hours until we got to the end of Lake Laberge.

Start line of the Yukon River Quest

Photo by Carmen Merkel

DCK: Wow. That sounds INTENSE, and it was only 10 hours in! How did you keep going?

JB: I had 3 litres of water around my waist – it was really hot so it was really important to keep hydrated. As for food, because of the pace we were paddling I couldn’t afford to stop, so basically ate pouches of gel food I had access to, and could cram in my mouth between paddle strokes. You are trying to stay on the draft of kayaks and canoes too to save energy, but at one point I lost ground because I dropped a wrapper and had to circle back to get it which meant I dropped the draft and lost about 5 minutes of time trying to get back on to the draft.

Yukon River scenery

Photo Cred: Carmen Merkel

DCK: So you’re 10 hours in, and still got one hell of a long way to go – what happened when you got to the end of the lake.

JB: That’s where the Yukon River really starts, and doing the math I realised that at the pace I was going that I still had 16 hours to go before reaching Carmacks, the mandatory 7 hour stop. At that point I took a bit of a reality check, came off the draft, ate some food and refilled my water, otherwise I knew I wasn’t going to last. I had all the supplies on my board so I could stay on the whole time.

DCK: And from there, it’s just keeping going until you get to Carmacks?

JB: Yes, but keeping going is a lot harder than it sounds! As you’re paddling you’re working through the map book they give you, trying to navigate around sandbars and islands. [There are 46 pages of maps to flick through. 46!!]. Each page shows about 20km of the course [about the length of Indian Arm, to put it into context], and if you go around the wrong side of an island for example, you can be on the wrong side of the river for an hour which loses you a lot of time. What was interesting was that being on a SUP you have a much better vantage point to see the current, so we actually helped some canoes and kayaks we were drafting by telling them which direction to paddle!

Yukon River Quest Map

Just one of the 46 pages of maps

DCK: How did it feel getting into Carmacks??

JB: Oh man it was just amazing! Getting off the board for the first time in nearly 25 hours felt incredible, and having hot food and a back massage from Carmen before sleeping was heaven. She was just fantastic – she had everything ready for me when I got there, and then got it ready for me to leave too. I couldn’t have done it without her HUGE and unrelenting support. Norm and I had thought it would take us around 30 hours to get that far, so to come in so quickly was shocking! I also really enjoyed the luxury of a hot shower and changing into warmer clean clothing for paddling through the night. I had Vaikobi which was really comfy to paddle in.

Jason relaxes at Carmacks

Photo cred: Carmen Merkel

DCK: And after Carmacks you hit the rapids?? How was that?

JB: It honestly wasn’t that bad – I stayed left, and avoided the biggest waves (probably 2ft) so stayed standing up the whole time. The river flow wasn’t as big as it normally is, so I was grateful for that! You can see how fast you’re travelling through it in the video – super fun!

 

DCK: Did you ever feel like you weren’t going to make it?

JB: No, I didn’t ever feel like I wasn’t going to complete it – it was just a matter of how much time it was going to take! The 3-hour stop at Coffee Creek on Friday lunchtime was another welcome break, if only for a short while. More hot food and some napping in the heat was super helpful, but at that point you’re know you’re close…well, you’re still 24 hours away, but close! Friday night was probably the hardest – we were paddling into a headwind, and it felt like we weren’t moving at all, despite your eyes telling you that we were passing the shore; it was really quite trippy.

SUPs on the Yukon River

Photo Cred: Julianne Stanford via YRQ

DCK: Then how were the last few hours into Dawson?

JB: Norm and I had paddled together after leaving Coffee Creek, and it was at about Caribou Creek that I realised that we were actually within the parameters of coming into Dawson in under 55 hours. That is significant, because it’s the cut off time for prize money for the kayakers and canoers. As it was the first year for SUPs, we weren’t eligible for prize money but it was the principle of it! Once I talked about that with Norm, it was amazing – he completely found a new bout of energy and just HAMMERED it! We still had a couple of hours to go, but for those couple of hours we just sprinted. It was really tense – it was going to be really close, but coming around the final corner we knew we had about 5 minutes to go, and I crossed the line at 54:56:58. [You can see the full results here]

Jason Crosses the finish line at the Yukon River Quest

Photo Cred: Carmen Merkel

DCK: How did it feel to cross the finish line??

JB: Oh it was just overwhelming. Hearing all the people cheering brought tears to my eyes for sure, and crossing the line I was so emotional it was just an unreal feeling of so much joy! It took about 5 minutes to get off the board, at which point I just collapsed! Norm was actually worried that the last 20kms had been too much for me, but I just needed to rally a little and I came back around – I literally had nothing left. Carmen got me to our cabin, and I just slept for like 7 hours it was amazing. I went back to cheer and congratulate the people coming in, and just take it in, it was such a great feeling.

Jason after finishing the Yukon River Quest race!

Photo Credit: Carmen Merkel

DCK: Can you narrow down a ‘best bit’?

JB: There were so many! The camaraderie between paddlers was amazing, it really boosted your morale to joke and chat with the other guys right there with you. For me, completing something so hard feels like such a huge achievement, I know it will take a while to sink in. Finding my limits, and enjoying them in a weird way was also an incredible feeling. And of course, the scenery was just beautiful – almost totally untouched by humans it really is a very special place.

Photo Cred: Carmen Merkel

Photo Cred: Carmen Merkel

DCK: And I have to ask about the ‘Toe Shot’??? What on earth is that??

JB: Haha! That’s the Sourtoe Cocktail club – where at one of the bars in Dawson you put an actual human toe – that had been broken off because of frostbite – into your shot and drink it. It’s weird and gross BUT a huge tradition up there!! [You can check the video by clicking here…if you dare!]

DCK: On that note…we’ll leave it there to say another HUGE thanks and congrats to Jason for his remarkable achievement. 715 km in under 55 hours on a SUP, with no falling in. It really is incredible. We are super proud to be able to have him as a regular at our Tuesday Night Races, which we’ll see him at next week!

Photo Cred: Carmen Merkel

Photo Cred: Carmen Merkel

Gear he used: 2014 Starboard ‘Elite Race’ board, 14’ x 24.5” (aka The Clog!), Blackfish ‘Race’ Paddle, Kokatat Aries PFD, Vaikobi clothing.

 

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One Response to Jason Bennett & The Yukon River Quest…on a SUP!

  1. John Joyce says:

    Congratulations Jason.

    Great interview Amy.