In the Netherlands, people have been competing in one of the oldest extreme sports known. It’s called Fierljeppen, and is the official national sport in the Dutch province of Friesland. It involves participants vaulting across waterways on giant poles. They sprint towards the pole, climb as high as they can, then try to jump off and land on the sand island on the opposite side. They’ve been competing in this sport since 1771!
The Netherlands is a very flat and wet country. Since 1200 AD, locals have been using poles to cross the waterways running through their fields. In 1771 an innkeeper in the province of Frisia decided to turn this into a sport and held the first ever official competition.
Since 1957 these matches became more structured and leagues were formed in the provinces of Frisia and Utrecht and South Holland. Since 1966 these two leagues meet every year to compete for the honour of being the best. Six years later the first Dutch Championships were held and individual jumpers fought for the Dutch national title.
People of all ages come from across the region to compete. There are categories for boys and girls under 16 as well as a category for seniors. The current record holder is Bart Helmholt from Hardegarijp (Friesland). He leapt a distance of 21.51 metres (70 ft 7 in) in 2011 during the Dutch Championships.
What once was a pretty nifty means of transport has now become a national sport. Perhaps in a few years, we’ll be seeing Fierljeppen in the Olympics.