In the wetland areas of the Netherlands, people have been using poles to leap across ditches for at least a century. Like any method of transport, it wasn’t long before people decided to hold competitions to see who could leap across the widest canals. When fierljeppen is pursued as a sport, people still use poles to leap across water – and sometimes end up getting wet! The first competition on record was held in the village of Baard in Friesland on 24 August 1767. 

The author of the well-known book Toen en Nu (Then and Now) tells the story of Willem van der Meij, a man who in 1575 slipped through the Spanish lines near Alkmaar with a message hidden in a hollow in his pole. Back in those days, people who went out into the fields always carried poles. They were indispensable in wetland areas. Fierljeppen was introduced as a competitive sport in the Dutch province of Friesland. The first sporting events were held there in the early 1920s. In 1960, Frisian birds protection societies decided to organise competitions and set up Frysk Ljeppers Boun (FLB), the Frisian association for the sport of fierljeppen, for this purpose. The Dutch association for the sport of fierljeppen, Polsstokbond[MA1]  Holland (PBH), was set up in the same year.

Organised competitions have been held in Friesland since 1956. Until around 1975, participants competed with wooden poles that could be up to 10 metres long. These were replaced by telescopic aluminium poles that could be extended to a maximum length of 12.5 metres. In 2006, exactly 50 years after the first competition was organised in Friesland, the sport switched to carbon fibre poles that could be up to 13.25 metres long when extended. Carbon fibre is stiffer than aluminium so the poles do not sway as much. And some carbon fibre poles are longer than the old aluminium ones.

Wedstrijd in Winsum rond 1963, met houten polsstok

The year the new poles were introduced, four competitors broke the Dutch record of 19.40 metres set in 1991 by Aart de With from the village of Benschop. As longer poles enabled competitors to leap greater distances, it became increasingly necessary to create safe landing areas. In the past, people simply landed on the bank but today’s competitors land in a carefully prepared sand bed. In the early years of the sport, contenders leapt from a bank and attempted to land on the other side of the water. Over the years, higher and longer ramps were created for fierljep competitions. And the water was deepened to safely cushion falls from greater heights. Today, the purpose-built ramps and water depth must meet certain safety standards.

The current Dutch record is 22.21 metres. It was set by Jaco de Groot on 12 August 2017 during the Holland Championship in Zegveld.

Dutch books about the history of the sport
Fierljeppen: De spong naar de overkant by J. Keizer  1982
Vijftig jaar fierljeppen: De grote sprong by K. Jansma with the assistance of J. Roorda 2006

Dutch book about technique
Polsstokvérspringen oftewel: Fierljeppen by M. van Houten 2007

Children’s books about fierljeppen
Siem en Sanne sille fierljeppe by H Vis- de Ruiter & B Roorda
Sipke leert fierljeppen by Lida Dykstra