Fierljeppen: the oldest Frisian extreme sport

“Jumping over canals with a pole? You must have gone completely cuckoo” – my girlfriend said when I jokingly tried to explain to her what fierljeppen is. Fierljeppen means ‘far-leaping’, and that is the essence of it – you better leap far, otherwise warm ditch water is waiting for you!

By: Eimantas Zemaitis – photo: Peter Werkman

This traditional Frisian activity is not widely known and that only makes it more interesting. Watching people falling into the canal is as fun as being the one who falls. And if you manage to leap to the other side, you have something to be proud of – you have just beaten a challenge, which requires great strength, agility, coordination and reaction. No matter which way it goes, quality time is guaranteed, because this sport always takes place in a cozy atmosphere surrounded by beautiful green Frisian nature.

Although it might appear simple, fierljeppen actually is very far from simple. In fact, fierljeppers are often called complete athletes. It requires great arm strength, coordination and technical expertise of pole placement, sprinting and soft landing.

A jumper starts with placing the pole in the water in the way he or she prefers. Then, a short 20-30 meters sprint takes place, followed by a leap to the pole. The jump requires a precise amount of momentum, so that the pole would not stop at so-called ‘dead point’ but also would not swing too fast. Then, the athlete must ‘hug’ the pole with both hands and feet and climb the pole as high as he can. The higher one manages to climb, the further the leap would be. At the same time, the leaper must maintain the correct balance. Lastly, when the pole starts to fall, the jumper must push oneself away for the pole, so that the further distance could be covered. In order to achieve a great result, all of these stages must be perfectly executed.

In the early competitions, it was rare to see a jump longer than 10 meters. As the sport grew more and more professional, wooden poles were replaced by the aluminum and now contemporary sticks are made of carbon fiber. As the technology developed, the results followed and today it is common to see professional leaps over 20 meters. The current record belongs to Bart Helmont, who managed to jump 21,64 meters. Ladies record, which is 17,58 meters, is held by Marrit van der Wal.

Upcoming events and where to try
Official Fierljeppen competitions typically take place during the warm season. 2017 events are scheduled from May to September. More information about the upcoming events can be found at here. In case you want to have fun and try Fierljeppen out together with your friends, family or social group, it is possible to arrange it through this link.

Other fierljeppen links:


Sources: The used images in the infographic “A brief history of fierljeppen” made by the author, are licensed under the Creative Commons license for commercial and non-commercial reuse, and by Peter van der Sluijs, Theun &
Because as an interactive infographic, it does not look like it should in Microsoft Explorer, the infographic is shown as a picture. If you click on it you go to the interactive infographic where the imbedded video can be seen. Sorry for the inconvenience.