Stand up paddle boarding for four days, in a place where it never goes dark and you’re well and truly in the belly of beast that is mother nature, isn’t everyone’s initial thought of tranquility and relaxation. I think it is a rare type of people who truly do enjoy testing the limits of their body and mind for fun and André Le Geyt is one of them.
André, a fireman at Jersey Airport, has been stand up paddle boarding for around eight years. In this time, he’s earned himself the title of British surf and SUP champion, 2015 British masters race club champion, was a part of the British team world champion twice, and came top ten highest ranking British SUP each year in Holland 11 cities competitions of 2013 and 2014 He also holds the island record for paddling around the island three times. Just picture that trophy room.
This June he took on the Yukon River Quest, an annual marathon canoe and kayak race, totalling 720 kilometres up the Yukon river in Canada. It is open to solo and tandem canoes, kayaks, and voyageur canoes. This year, however, they let stand up paddle boarders enter the race for the first time, as an experimental class. There were over 250 people taking part, totaling 96 teams, and André went solo, naming himself ‘Team Jersey’.
André was chosen as one of 11 stand up paddle boarders picked in the world to be a part of it. “I had to send in a CV listing all my experience, as well as why I would be fit to cope alone in the wilderness.” He’s not kidding either. Due to the remote location of the River Quest, if he needed medical attention and nobody else was around, it could have been up to 48 hours before he got help.
The race started on Wednesday 29 June at noon, with the first section stretching 190 miles. “We started as we meant to go on” André said. “It was definitely tough. The first lake we had to tackle took seven hours to cross, it was brutal” After the hard hitting first part, the competitors had their first mandatory stop at Carmacks, where they had to stay for seven hours to eat, shower, rehydrate, and sleep. Each team had to have support teams to help with their kit, food and in case of emergencies. “My girlfriend Catherine acted as my support throughout with the help of a woman who ran the B&B we had stayed at” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The second stretch was 160 miles, which is where André spent the majority of his time completely alone. “I didn’t see another person or man made thing from Thursday night when I left Carmacks until I got to Coffee Creek on Saturday” he said. “The fact the sky never got any darker than twilight made me lose my sense of time, it was bizarre” Coffee Creek was another three hour mandatory stop for food, water and sleep. Due to its off road location, support teams weren’t able to meet them there. It was their last bit of rest before they saw the finish line.
The final stretch was 100 miles. At around 4am on Saturday 3 July, André reached a wide area of the river, and couldn’t make out what was water and what was sky. “Everything merged into one colour” he said. “The lack of sleep was making me hallucinate.” Doing the whole thing alone started to get to André when his morale was low. “It would definitely be easier in a team” he said. “Just having someone else to talk to and share the experience with would have helped to keep spirits high. I ended up having conversations with myself and hallucinating, thinking logs were alligators. It was surreal.”
“I was really lucky with the amount of support I got from people” André said. “Rob Cassin in particular helped a lot. He’s canoed the river quest the times, and had some great tips and advice.” Rob, along with many others, helped André out with the kit he needed. “It was amazing how generous everyone was” he said. “The company Red Paddle Co. set me up with a 14’ elite inflatable board, and a lot of other kit, so that was a massive help.”
He finished the race in 63 hours, placing 52nd out of the 96 teams. Throughout the race, André slept a total of four hours across the four days. “By the time I heard my girlfriend Catherine calling my name as I came round the corner, I didn’t have anything left in me to speed up. I knew that I had finished.”
André raised £500 for the Great British Heart Foundation in doing this race. Describing it as the most extreme thing he’s done, he said it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. “It made me realise how much my body can do, and how my limitations are only a mind-set” he said. “It was a beautiful, brutal and spiritual experience.”