All throughout human history, cultures have developed clever solutions to challenges posed by their surrounding environments. Native Americans devised lightweight shelters for their journeys across expansive plains, and Egyptians figured out ways to keep their food cold in the desert heat through evaporative cooling. Even today, we have much to learn from the techniques developed by our ancestors.

Fierljeppen canal river crossing pole vault water Netherlands sport 1

The Netherlands is a country which is famous for its low-lying topography and proximity to sea level — in fact, Netherlands literally means “lower countries”. As a result, waterways are a fact of life for the Dutch. For centuries, farmers and travelers in the Netherlands have faced crossing several small canals to reach their destination, and this dilemma led to a simple solution. Instead of going around the water, they went over it.

Fierljeppen canal river crossing pole vault water Netherlands sport 2

Fierljeppen, which translates to “far leaping”, is the Dutch method of pole-vaulting across a canal or stream. As roadways and bridges in the Netherlands developed, this skill became less of a necessity and more of a fun pastime. Much like archery, that which was once only a survival skill eventually developed into a competitive sport, with its first officially-structured match in the 1950s.

Fierljeppen canal river crossing pole vault water Netherlands sport 4

Instead of simple wood poles, lightweight carbon fiber poles are now used with flat plates near the bottom to prevent the pole from sinking too deep into the soft sand or mud. Competitors also climb quickly up the pole as it reaches the peak of its arc, increasing the distance of the vault. The current world record leap is more than 70 feet.

Although fierljeppen is still a potential means of crossing rivers in the backcountry, it’s a skill that takes substantial practice to master. A fall from the top of a pole could lead to serious injury, or simply a very cold and wet journey home. Keep all of this in mind next time you’re faced with crossing a stream and end up like this unfortunate Dutch guy:

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