What is fierljeppen?

What the Frisians call ‘fierljeppen’ and the Dutch call ‘polsstokverspringen’ is a sport in which people use a long pole to leap as far as they can across a stretch of water. Fierljeppen means ‘to leap far’. ‘Fier’ is the Frisian word for ‘far’ and ‘ljeppen’ means ‘to leap’. A person who practices the sport is known as a ‘fierljepper’ or ‘ljepper’.

The stages of the jump
The jump starts with the approach. This is a short hard sprint of about 30 metres along a ramp to the pole. The fierljepper then leaps onto the pole, climbs 3 to 6 metres to the top of the pole as it swings toward the opposite bank, leaps off the pole and lands in a bed of sand. 

The pole
The poles are made of carbon fibre and range from 9 to 13.25 metres in length. Girls use poles that are between 9 and 10 metres long. Men in the senior category use an 11-metre pole that can be extended to the maximum permitted length of 13.25 metres. The poles were originally made of wood. Later aluminium poles were used until carbon fibre poles were introduced. 

The ramp and distance across the water
The final part of the approach to the pole is along a ramp. This is a purpose-built structure that projects out over the water.  The ramp can be shortened or extended. The further it extends out over the water, the shorter the distance across the water. For women and girls, the ramp is extended so the distance from the end of the ramp to the opposite bank is 9 metres. For men in the senior category, the ramp is shortened so the distance from the end of the ramp to the opposite bank is 12 metres. 

The distance between the pole and the ramp  

The pole stands in the water ready for the jump. It is held at a distance from the ramp with a stick. The person who holds the pole at a distance from the ramp is known as the pole holder. (The stick used for this purpose is also known as a pole holder.) The further out into the water the pole stands, the further it is possible to jump. The pole is placed in the water at the desired distance from the ramp by the fierljepper or their coach.  

The climb
To leap as far as possible, the fierljepper has to climb as high up the pole as they can. The best fierljeppers can climb to the top of the pole with just 5 or 6 climbing movements. A climbing movement is defined as one movement of the hands and one movement of the feet. Some fierljeppers move both hands at the same time. Others move first one hand and then the other. Climbing movements can be short and fast or long. 

The leap off
To extend the jump as much as possible, a powerful leap from the pole is important. There are two techniques that can be used to leap from the pole. One way is to leap from the pole with the body fully extended, but this is hard to do and only a few fierljeppers can do it well. The easier way is to swing around next to the pole after the last climbing movement and then push off. 

The sand
A well-prepared sand bed is important for a safe landing. The sand is loosened with a milling machine both before training and before a competition. After leaping from the pole, a fierljepper will land on the sand from a height of 3 to 5 metres. Besides ensuring a safe landing, it is also important to be able to measure the distance of the jump from the indentation in the sand.

Measuring the jump
The distance of the jump is measured from the end of the ramp to the mark in the sand. The edge of the mark closest to the water is the point that counts. During competitions, this point is indicated by a marker and the exact distance is measured with a laser meter. As in long jump, the distance is measured along a perpendicular line from the end of the ramp. The distance is automatically displayed on the digital scoreboard together with the competitor’s number. 

The depth of the water
Before a competition, the Technical Committee checks the depth of the water and the height of each ramp. The distance from the top of the ramp to the bottom of the water can be a maximum of 4 metres. The water is approximately 2 metres deep. 

Distance indicator lines in the sand
During competitions there are two lines in the sand. These lines give the fierljepper and the spectators a rough idea of the distance jumped. The exact distance is measured with a laser meter and the score is then displayed on the scoreboard.

Wet jumps
If the fierljepper gets wet, the jump is considered a fail. The trick is to travel across the water very slowly. This gives the fierljepper more time to climb. Sometimes the winning jump is very close to a wet jump.  

Dead centre
The point where the pole is perpendicular to the surface of the water is dead centre. The idea is to travel straight through this dead centre. If the fierljepper veers off at an angle from this point on, it will reduce the distance of the jump because the distance is measured along a perpendicular line from the end of the ramp. 

Practice pole 
Many fierljeppers keep a practice pole in their garden or shed. Practice poles are made of aluminium and stand upright in the ground. They are approximately 6 metres long and are used to practice climbing technique and improve climbing speed.

Climbing leather and resin
There are two materials fierljeppers can use to get a better grip on the pole: the inner tube of a bicycle tire (otherwise known as a ‘climbing leather’) and resin. A strip of inner tube is wrapped around one foot to protect the instep and the front of the ankle from abrasions. The resin is sprayed on the climbing leather, the foot and the hands. This enables the fierljepper to get a better grip on the pole. That way, the fierljepper is less likely to slide.

Competitions in Friesland and Groningen
FLB organises a competition in partnership with six fierljep clubs in Friesland and Groningen. The competition is divided into first, second and third classes. There is also a youth competition. Each club organises three or four competitions for all classes.  The competition season runs from 15 May to the first week of September. During a competition, each fierljepper is allowed to make three jumps. The first-class fierljeppers with the highest scores are allowed to make another two jumps in the final. The winner in each category is the champion of the day.

Fierljeppen is a ‘mixed’ sport. Boys and girls, and women and men compete at the same time with prizes awarded in five categories. Competitors are grouped in five categories: girls under 16, women aged 16 or older, boys under 16. male juniors aged 16 to 20 and male seniors aged 21 or older. 

The trainer or coach
There is always someone who runs behind the fierljepper during the approach to the jump. This is the fierljepper’s coach or trainer. During the jump, this person shouts instructions about the progress of the jump. For example, they may shout, “Klimmen, klimmen!” (“Climb, climb!”) If they shout, “Los!” (“Drop!”), the fierljepper must immediately let go of the pole, because the coach can see that the fierljepper will not hit the dead centre or that they have veered off at a sharp angle and may fall on the edge of the sand bed.  

There are separate rounds for Girls, Boys, Women, Juniors and Seniors, with a maximum of eight competitors in each group. The competitors in the three groups at the top of the table (Girls, Boys and Mixed-Class Seniors) each make three jumps. Then the competitors in the other three groups (Women, Juniors and First-Class Seniors) each make three jumps. The three girls, boys, juniors and women who achieve the highest scores in the first round are allowed to make two jumps in the final. The best six among the Mixed and First-Class Seniors also make another two jumps in the final. After this final round, the prizes are awarded. The winner in each category is the champion of the day.

During the competition season, a fierljepper will compete in more than twenty events. The best of the three jumps in the first round is the distance that counts per competition. Jumps made in the final round do not count towards the ranking. The rankings are based on the sum of a fierljepper’s seven best scores. The best fierljepper gets the top ranking.

Leader’s jersey
During competitions, the leading first-class fierljepper in each category wears the leader’s jersey. The leader’s jersey stands out. It is styled like the Frisian flag with red water-lily leaves and blue and white stripes. 

Youth competitions
There are separate competitions for boys and girls aged 8 to 12 who compete on special youth ramps. Each club has three adult ramps two youth ramps. The distance across the water from the end of a youth ramp ranges from 4 to 7 metres. Youth ramps can also be shortened or extended to adjust the distance across the water.

There are record holders in each category (Girls, Boys, Women, Juniors and Seniors). The current Dutch record for Seniors stands at 22.21 metres and is held by Jaco de Groot. The Women’s record stands at 18.19 metres and is held by Marrit van der Wal. There are Frisian records and Dutch records. There are also records for each ramp at each facility and all fierljeppers have a personal best.  

Current records

Dutch RecordHanneke Westert 17.63 m.Wisse Broekstra 20.72m. Reinier Overbeek 21.38 m.Marrit vd Wal 18.19 m.Jaco de Groot 22.21 m.
Frisian RecordHanneke Westert 17.63 m.Wisse Broekstra 20.72 m.Rutger Haanstra 20.53 m.Marrit vd Wal 18.19 m.Nard Brandsma 21.68 m.
PBH recordDemi Groothedde 16.30 m.Reinier Overbeek 20.30 m. Reinier Overbeek 21.38 m.Dymphie Baas 17.50 m.Jaco de Groot  22.21 m.

Frisian Fierljeppen Championship (Fries Kampioenschap)
The Frisian Fierljeppen Championship is held in Winsum in Friesland on the second or third Saturday of August. This is the most important competition of the year for fierljeppers. ‘Frisian Champion’ is the most prestigious title in the sport. The best fierljeppers in each category are selected on the basis of their ranking.

Dutch Fierljep Event (Nederlandse Fierljep Manifestatie)
At the end of July or beginning of August, the fierljep club in the village of It Heidenskip organises an open competition. All fierljeppers are welcome to take part. Sometimes there are participants from Belgium or England. The fierljeppers with the highest scores in the preliminary rounds in the morning and afternoon qualify for the final in the evening. The distances jumped in the preliminary rounds do not count in the final. 

Tweekamp event (TK)
Once a year, fierljeppers from Friesland and Groningen who are members of FLB and fierljeppers from the Holland provinces who are members of the Dutch association for the sport Polsstokbond Holland (PBH) come together to test their skills. An equal number of participants from each association compete against each other in each category. The best distance jumped by each fierljepper is the score that counts. These scores are added together to determine the overall outcome.  

Dutch Fierljeppen Championship (Nederlands Kampioenschap)
The Dutch Fierljeppen Championship is the last event of the season. Every other year the competition is held in Friesland or Groningen. In the intervening years it is held in the Province of Utrecht or South Holland. The top-ranking fierljeppers from FLB and PBH are invited to compete.

Summer sport
Fierljeppen is very much a summer sport. The first competition of the season is held in the middle of May. The Dutch Fierljeppen Championship brings the season to a close on the last Saturday in August or the first Saturday in September.  Many competitions are held in the evening but this cannot continue in the autumn when it gets dark earlier. Not only it is more difficult to see the pole at twilight but there is also greater risk of injury as the weather gets colder.

Injuries and first aid
Organisers of official competitions are required to ensure that first aid can be provided. A sticking plaster or a cooling compress for bruising is usually all that is needed. Fierljeppen is no more dangerous than any other sport. Proper training and a thorough warm-up are important for any sport and fierljeppen is no exception. 

Pole waggon
The poles used for competitions are always supplied by FLB. The poles are 8 to 11 metres long and are transported on a special trailer known as the pole waggon. Together with the fierljeppen bus, it is a striking sight to see on the road.  The task of driving the pole waggon to each competition is always entrusted to the same two drivers. 

Winter training
Fierljeppers continue to train throughout the winter. Their training schedule may include strength training, running and practising technique. Training addresses all aspects of the sport.  Some fierljeppers have a home workout area with strength training equipment and accessories.

Technical Committee (TC)
During events, the Technical Committee acts as referee. Before the event, members of the committee check the depth of the water and the quality of the sand bed. Throughout the event, the committee ensures that the sand bed remains a safe place to land and that the participants abide by the rules. The members of the committee can be recognised by their red and blue shirts.

During competitions, a commentator on the fierljeppen bus keeps the public informed of the progress of the event and explains what is involved in the sport of fierljeppen.

The secretariat for fierljeppen competitions (Wedstrijdsecretariaat (WS)) keeps a record of all distances jumped at each event. During competitions, there is always a delegate from the secretariat on the fierljeppen bus. As well as recording the distances jumped, this person also feeds the commentator information about the progress of the event. The delegate from the secretariat has ready access to information about personal records and the competitors in first, second and third place. 

Time limit
All jumps must be completed in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Once the pole is in front of the ramp, a green light indicates that the clock has started. When the countdown enters the last 30 seconds, the light changes to orange. If the fierljepper does not complete the jump in 2 minutes and 15 seconds, the jump is considered a fail.

Rain and wet poles
Fierljeppen cannot be done in the rain. In wet weather, competitions and outdoor training are suspended or cancelled. Wet poles are slippery and fierljeppers who jump with a wet pole slide off. Fierljeppen is not safe in these conditions. During competitions, water can splash onto the poles. So competitors always dry their pole with a towel before they jump.

Frysk Ljeppers Boun (FLB)
FLB is the umbrella association of fierljep clubs in Friesland and Groningen. In these two Frisian provinces, official competitions are organised by FLB. In the provinces of Utrecht and South Holland, official competitions are organised by the Dutch association for the sport, Polsstokbond Holland (PBH). Together the two associations represent a group of approximately 600 active fierljeppers in the Netherlands. Every year, the members of the two associations gather to test their skills at three events: the Tweekamp event (TK), the Dutch Fierljeppen Championship (Nederlands Kampioenschap, NK) and the Dutch Fierljep Event (Nederlandse Fierljep Manifestatie, NFM).

Polsstokbond Holland (PBH)
PBH is the umbrella association of fierljep clubs in the Dutch provinces of Utrecht and South Holland. The association organises competitions in partnership with six fierljep clubs in these provinces.

Dutch Fierljep Association (Nederlandse Fierljepbond)
The Dutch Fierljep Association (NFB) was set up in 1991 to preserve, promote and advance the sport of fierljeppen in the Netherlands. FLB and PBH cooperate and coordinate regulations through NFB.