This is  a story about what the Dutch do with a pole. This is not a story about me going pole dancing in Amsterdam or Utrecht. Trust me, if I could pole dance, there would be videos posted. I would be a world-wide sensation for what I could do with a pole. But again, this story is not about me.

I recently saw something on TV that I had to share with all of you. It is called Fierljeppen and it means slootje jumping. Just to review: sloten are man-made bodies of water that are long and not too wide and not too narrow. You can see sloten throughout this country and I am not exaggerating, they are everywhere. There are even two across from our house. If you had an aerial view of the farms, you would see green grass, cows and sloten. And in cities, people (like me, when I first got here) mistake sloten for canals.

Fierljeppen is a sport where one person jumps over a sloot or any body of water with a pole. These jumpers have to be in excellent shape, as this is not an easy task. The pole is in the middle of the sloot, it has a flat plate on the bottom so it doesn’t sink into the mud. It is 8-13 meters long (26-42 feet). The jumper runs at full speed to the edge of the sloot and leaps onto the pole. You then have 5 seconds to climb the pole to the top and  lean towards the other side, and as the pole bends, you jump off into a pile of sand. That is the sport in a nutshell.

This kind of jumping started as a very practical thing to do and not a sport at all. Farmers needed to get to the other side of the field and they came up with this brilliant idea—just jump over the water. Then it became a competitive sport and has been a big hit with tourists. Fierljeppen mainly happens in Friesland, this is a province in northern Netherlands. It is the only province (out of 12) that has its own official language. This area is known for its cattle, horses, and sloot jumping. This province has 195 windmills and there are 1200 in the entire country. Friesland is where the famous ice skating race, Elfstedentocht, takes place.

I know what you are all wondering…is this going to be an Olympic event? Uh, no. I am guessing that this is not yet an international sport and will take time to grow in its appeal. But I can tell you that there are annual Dutch championships and the current champion is Bart Helmholt. He leaped 21.51 meters (68 feet) in 2011. I am providing you a photograph so you can see that I am not making this up.

Fierljeppen in Utrecht

Bas Helmholt

Recommended viewing: this is an oldie but goodie—AMELIE on DVD. Just saw it again and remembered how creative, charming and fun this movie is. There are so many great French films out there. If you have not seen this new film, INTOUCHABLES, please do. THE ARTIST just came out on DVD. Here are two more on DVD, that are on my favorites list: THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE and LA VIE EN ROSE.  O lala!

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  • Jean Langley  On July 18, 2012 at 1:36 am

    Awesome! I would love to see fierljeppen in action! Thanks for the photos. Why is the word fieljeppen, though? Why isn’t it slootjeppen?
    I had not heard of Intouchables, so thanks for the recommendation.

  • Alison  On July 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I love fierljeppen! I got to see the Red Bull fierljeppen competition (is there anything Red Bull won’t sponsor?) here in Utrecht a couple of years ago. Lots of fun! I’m pretty sure I saw Helmholt.

  • Frits  On September 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I am dutch lurker (from Utrecht) on this blog, and Jane I truly love it!
    @Jean Fierljeppen is frisian word, like Jane said, The province of Friesland has it’s own official language, and it really is. It sounds a lot more scandinavian than dutch, and like most non frisians I don’t understand a word of it. Frisian people all do speak dutch though, they just speak frisian amongst themselves. In dutch fierljeppen would be something like ‘slootje springen’ I guess.

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