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In the Netherlands, the perchists send themselves in the air above the canals

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | An athlete participates in a competition of
“Fierljeppen” in It Heidenskip, in the Dutch province of
Friesland, August 16, 2017

At 22 years old, the pole vault Sytse Bokma is approaching
the summit of his art, literally. But in this wet afternoon in
the countryside of Friesland, in the northern province of the
Netherlands, all his attempts are futile: the young local
athlete takes his momentum, plant his 13-meter pole, misses his
test, falls into the water in a huge plouf.

Welcome to the spectacular world of the “fierljeppen”, the
emblematic sport of the province of Friesland. Translated from
Frisian, the second official language of the Netherlands,
fierljeppen means “jump away”, a sport that mixes pole vaulting
and high jumping.

The goal for the athletes is to run as fast as possible
towards a ramp before sprinting on a carbon fiber pole, planted
in the muddy bottom of a canal. Once hooked to the pole, they
climb to the top and use their swing to swing across a 15-meter
stretch of water before landing as far as possible on a bench.
sand specially arranged on the other bank.

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | Athletes compete in a “Fierljeppen” competition at It
Heidenskip, in the Dutch province of Friesland, on 16 August
2017

At least in theory. Because most often, the jump is aborted.
When the pole tilts to the side, instead of going forward, or
when the athlete’s hands slide. There follows a humiliating but
spectacular plunge into the canal, whose depth is two
meters.

Each plouf is accompanied by cries of disarray from the
public from the stands or on the opposite bank.

– ‘Do not get dizzy’ –

“It’s not easy,” admits Etty Kramer, president of the
fierljeppen club of the small village It Heidenskip, about
forty kilometers southwest of Leeuwarden, the capital of the
province.

“It takes the explosive qualities of a sprinter associated
with the upper body strength of a gymnast,” said the
fifty-year-old pillar of the sport for 38 years.

“Then you need concentration and balance to ensure that you
do not tilt in the wrong direction, but what you need most is
boldness,” she explains, AFP.

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | Athletes compete in a “Fierljeppen” competition at It
Heidenskip, in the Dutch province of Friesland, on 16 August
2017

And: “You must not be dizzy …”

No one really knows when this sports discipline was born,
but in Dutch literature, men crossed a canal using a perch
since the sixteenth century.

In the local folklore a man would have hidden a secret
message in his wooden pole before jumping over a canal and
crossing the enemy lines in 1575 during the Dutch revolt
against Spanish domination.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – JOHN THYS – | An athlete participates in a competition of
“Fierljeppen” in It Heidenskip, in the Dutch province of
Friesland, August 16, 2017

For several centuries, peasants used the same method to go
from one “polder” to another, and thus rally these parcels
surrounded by water.

The first official fierljeppen competition was held in
August 1957 in the Winsum Frisian village. But it was not until
1978 to see the birth of an official federation, the Frysk
Ljeppers Boun.

However, this sport remains relatively unknown, even in the
rest of the Netherlands.

– Frisian Pride –

Today, some 250 men and women compete in three different
categories during over 60 competitions during the summer.

Added to the Frisian language, ice skating and the local
cattle breed, fierljeppen is a source of pride for many
inhabitants of the region, where the sense of belonging is such
that more than one claim independence.

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | An athlete participates in a competition of
“Fierljeppen” in It Heidenskip, in the Dutch province of
Friesland, August 16, 2017

Etty Kramer thus raises a very sensitive point when she must
confess that the record of 22.21 meters is not held by a
Frisian but by Jaco de Groot, native of the neighboring
province of Utrecht. Recently, he dared to strip the hero of
Friesland, Bart Helmholt.

“They have jumped farther than us (the non-native friesers
of Friesland). Things must change to make sure the Frisians are
again the best,” she observes stoically.

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | An athlete participates in a competition of
“Fierljeppen” in It Heidenskip, in the Dutch province of
Friesland, August 16, 2017

This time, the competition is not going very well for the
one who plays at home, Sytse Bokma, second of the general
classification before the test of the day. Described as one of
the future stars of this sport, the young hope continues the
failed attempts and drinks the cup repeatedly, to the great
despair of the public.

Finally, he finished third behind another local favorite,
Ysbrand Galama, who fought hard against the current Frisian
champion, Nard Brandsma, who made the 20.72-meter winning
jump.

“I was not at my best level today,” reacted Syste Bokma to
AFP. “But the most beautiful thing for me is seeing the
children cheering us from the edge of the canal, as they are
the future of our little sport.”

“Particularly when you end up in the
water!”

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