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Standup paddling record set on Yukon River

Thanks in part to the power of the Yukon River, Tennessee's Ben Friberg is joining a very exclusive group.

Thanks in part to the power of the Yukon River, Tennessee’s Ben Friberg is joining a very exclusive group.

The 34-year-old will be included in the next edition of the Guinness World Records book having set a new record for the most distance travelled on a standup paddleboard in a 24-hour period.

“The primary goal was to maximize distance and the Yukon River is the only place in the world that you can get those type of distances,” said Friberg. “Guinness is just the icing on the cake. The primary purpose wasn’t to set a world record, it was to go for maximum distance.

“You guys are fortunate to have that river there; that river is awesome. Maybe we’ll be back to do it again.”

Friberg smashed the previous record of 78.8 kilometres (49 miles) set by Floridian Justin DeBree in 2008. Friberg traveled at total of 383 kilometres (238 miles), beginning the endurance record attempt just after 3 p.m. on June 26.

“We’re really pleased with the outcome; the whole team was really fired up,” said Friberg. “Our goal was to reach 200 miles and we did that right at the 20th hour and we had four more hours to add onto our goal.

“The river was amazingly beautiful and the wildlife was really cool - Dall sheep, a bear, moose, some bald eagles.”

In addition to his athleticism and stamina, higher and faster than usual water levels on the river worked in Friberg’s favour. He also used a modified carbon-fibre board, 18 feet in length and only 18 pounds in weight.

He began at lower Laberge Lake and finished a little short of Minto.

“Hats off to him,” said Mark Stenzig, owner of UpNorth Adventures that provided Friberg’s support boat. “It’s a heck of a feat. He’s a great athlete and was able to stay on the board for 24 hours straight. I was impressed by the amount of distance that he made.”

Friberg was originally supposed to make the record attempt with friend Dan Gavere from Oregon, but Gavere had to pull out at the last minute when he was unable to get his standup paddling board to Whitehorse in time.

Other than that, there were few hiccups.

“It went really smooth the whole time. There were no big surprises,” said Friberg. “I nearly crashed in hours 22 and 23, but on 24 I got some adrenaline and was able to hammer out the 24th hour pretty hard.

“I had four or five close calls where I almost went into the water. That water is very cold and at night the air temperatures were like 40 degrees (Fahrenheit, 4.5 C), so if you fall it would be a pain because you’re in water that is super cold, the air is super cold. You’d have to call your support boat over and change and warm back up, and all of that would eat into your time. You can’t stop the clock - it’s going.”

Friberg’s is not the only 24-hour endurance record set on the 3,187-kilometre Yukon River in recent years.

American adventure racer Ian Adamson set two world records on the Yukon River, both 24-hour endurance records.

In 1998 Adamson paddled a surfski 349 kilometres (217 miles) in one day for the kayak record on the Yukon River. He then returned six years later and broke his own record in a 421-kilometre (262-mile) trip.

American paddler Andy Cora topped Adamson’s record in 2010, paddling just over 439 kilometres (272 miles) in a surfski kayak.

That record barely lasted a year before American Carter Johnson broke Cora’s record, travelling 450.6 kilometres (280 miles) in a 24-hour period. Johnson also holds the solo kayak record for the Yukon River Quest race.

“I’m feeling good; my feet are not numb anymore, so everything is getting back to normal,” said Friberg. “Hopefully the record will stand for some time to come.”

Contact Tom Patrick at