The 11-city tour is a Dutch SUP competition, there’s a non-stop race of 220 km and then there’s the same distance, but spread out over 5 days. MIKE KRANENBURG is the first to do them both in the same year, or actually in the same week! This was 2017, the year we met. His motivation was creating awareness and collecting money for the Dutch cancer foundation. Read more below what we talked about.
How did you become one of the best Dutch suppers?
When I was young I was already into sports. Like my mother, I did gymnastics, at a bit higher level than she did. Supping was something I started doing more or less by accident, but then I liked it so much that I started doing more extreme races. This because I wanted to show my mother that she was not alone in her fight against cancer.
It started all when I was challenged by a friend to do one leg of the 11-city tour. So that’s what I did, that was, off the top of my head, 2008 or 2009. I did the last leg, which is the shortest distance and it took me an awful long time. Blood, sweat and tears. I had arrived in the morning of the race, a friend of mine gave me a board and a paddle and said: Here is your stuff and this how it should be used. I didn’t know what I was getting into at all. I had never seen it, never done it, it was literally the very first time for me.
The material was certainly not as it is today and I just thought: I’ll see where I’ll end up, but afterwards I thought: That was fun, next year I’m going to do it all the way! And I did just that, but shortly after that race my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Very quickly I decided to commit myself to raising money for cancer research . I actually didn’t start with doing extremely long distances, I just did the 5-day race to begin. The very first year, I just paddled the 5 days to reach the 220 km to raise money and my mother was there at the finish line. I never intended to make it much crazier, but finally after 220 km I thought: Hey, this is fun, I want to paddle more! So I started paddling in competitions and then comes that 11-city tour again and I just wanted to do crazier things to get more attention for cancer research.
I had to say goodbye to my mother 3 years ago, after she fought cancer for 7 years. But she had been given 2 years by the doctors and of the 2 years she managed to make it to 7 years with all her stubbornness, so we really spent a lot of over-time. My mother is stubborn and I got it from her, I don’t give up either!
You ended up very fast in the top 5 of best suppers in the Netherlands.
It was never my objective to be the best supper in the Netherlands, rankings are fun, but they don’t say anything about your passion. The fact that you can get better and better, once coming 4 th at the European Championship series or becoming 5 th at the end of a whole season, was a big motivation for me, but in the end it was just preparation for the 11-city tour, to perform there and to collect money for cancer research. I never saw all those races as competitions, but only as preparation for the 11-city tour. Winning has never been the task for me. It’s just about focusing attention on what you really want to do, raising money for charity, wanting and being able to paddle the longer distances. If you happen to rank well at a European Championship and end a whole season well, that’s very nice, the crown on what you do, but it has never been my goal. It has never been about being on the podium, my goal has always been to make people aware and to get the attention for what life is really about.
Are there any other sports you do?
Supping is my main sport, in the sense that’s where I put the most energy in and go to most events. But I have so many other fun hobbies like kite surfing and crossfit, which I love doing as well.
Do you still have a kite surf school?
I do indeed, it takes up a lot of time. It’s sometimes quite difficult to get enough training hours during summer. There are 12-hour days at the surf school and I can tell you, after 12 hours of teaching, you really don’t stand on the SUP for fun anymore. I’ve occasionally called Albert, a very good SUP buddy of mine, if he could drive to me to do a night training with just the two of us. I have to make kilometers and we’ve done that several times, in the evening, in the middle of the night, paddling throug the Netherlands. And that’s Albert Groesbeek? Yes, I met Albert, through supping, when he had just lost his father to cancer. The two of us shared a very strong story, my mother was very ill at the time and he had just lost his father, so we found a lot of comfort with each other. I am still very busy with the cancer fund: www.kwf.nl I have come also in contact with Maarten van der Weijden, Dutch Olympic swimmer, who swims considerable distances and I have been asked to be an ambassador for his foundation www.mvdwfoundation.nl, I do that with a lot of love and pleasure. We try to contact each other regularly to plan new things to raise money and to help each other where necessary. I’m very proud to have been appointed as an ambassador because of what I have done. And with his help, we can raise more money for cancer research and that’s what connects me to him, the same with Albert. The disease has brought us together and I’ve made friends for life. You need people like that, together with Albert I made the necessary training hours and we’ve had good conversations while supping, which was important to keep my head good and fresh. And they helped pushing my boundaries. Without people around you, you’re not going to be able to do this. Albert is a very good motivator for many suppers who think out-of-the-box. He is a man with a lot of peace, with a lot of wisdom and positivity. When somebody like that crosses your path, you have to cling to that. And that does give you completely new insights, but you also come to new achievements and look at yourself in a different way and he dares you to make your goals bigger and push them further.
Then there came a moment when you thought to yourself: Let’s go crazy, I’m going to do the 11-city tour 2 times in a row?
In 2014 , the first year the 11-city city was organizing the non-stop race, I competed in that. I think I finished 4 th then, something along those lines. It was still a small group of people at the time and I had said: I’m NEVER going to do a non-stop again, this is so bloody heavy, I have done it once and I’m never going to do it again. But then my mother was getting sicker, the support and the strength you want to show her is increasing and then I said in 2015: I’m going to do the non-stop and I’m going to participate in the 5-day competition right after. That year the non-stop was on Monday and Tuesday and we started the 5-day competition on Wednesday. Nowadays the non-stop is on the weekend and then on Wednesday the race starts, so if you decide to do both, you have two days in between. That was not the case back then, it was just right after one another. On top of that, we had very bad weather on the way, Schiphol airport even had to close down for 2 days in that week. When I completed the non-stop, where my mother was at the finish line, I nearly immediately continued with the 5-day competition. It was a mind-set, I know people said to me after the non-stop: You made it to the finish line! To which I very deliberately said: No, I’m only halfway there. Then they looked at me very strangely: But you have already achieved this! In my mind I hadn’t crossed the finish line, I would only have reached my goal after finishing the 5-day race. I was only halfway through what I wanted. The finish for me was only at the end of 5 days, when I would be completely ready. And that is also the mind-set that I needed to get to the finish, because we also had incredibly bad weather that year. I ended up needing assistance to get off my board. Day 1 paddling was tough, I had fallen into the water so often, that when I got off my board I was put in a hot shower by the race management, while someone stayed with me to make sure I would not black-out because I had cooled down so much. The following day went a lot better, but the 1st day of the 5-day race, when I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t lift my arms anymore and I was so wet from the rain, that they had to undress me, I couldn’t take off my shirt because my arms were so stiff. So 2015 was a beautiful, but also very tough year, because at the second finish my mother was not there. I had said to Albert: When I get to the finish line, I have a T-shirt in my bag with a Superman logo on it, I will cross the finish line wearing that shirt. When we paddled into Leeuwarden (note: That’s where the 11-city tour finishes) I had the shirt in my bag, Albert grabbed the shirt from it and I crossed the line with that Superman shirt on and that was really finishing for me.
How many people were participating in the non-stop in that year?
I think we started with about 10 guys, something along those lines. Nowadays there are a lot more, but back then, there just weren’t that many people who dared to do it. I do know that we finished with around 5 people. With the non-stop many people dropped out because of the bad weather. You can be so fit, so well trained, but something you can’t control is the weather. Then it doesn’t come down to how fit you are and how well trained are you, it comes down to how far you can push your body. And yes, during such a race, only a very small group had the mind-set and know themselves well enough to reach the finish line.
You haven’t had moments where you thought “What am I doing??”
I knew I was going to finish, how it would happen, I didn’t know, but I was going to cross the finish line no matter what. In 2015, when I was in the 5-day race, from day 3 on, Albert started paddling with me. He paddled the 5-day, but he paddled a little bit in front of me every day. He was fresher and could start a little better, but on day 3 he saw how hard it was getting for me and he said: I’ll just keep waiting for you, we do it together. By chatting along the way, it just becomes a little more bearable, you have a good conversation and it helps that you have someone you can rely on at times when it starts to get really bad. But there has never been a doubt in my mind about what I was doing there. The goal was very clear, I must and I will cross the finish line, at all costs.
How do you get through the nights without sleeping?
In 2015 I had very little trouble with it, in spite of the dark, it actually went very well. In 2016 I was injured, I had torn both my elbow tendons by paddling a lot in 2015, then I was able to paddle very little to none. In 2017 I did the 11-city tour 2 times in a row and that was the crowning glory and the last time my mother was able to follow me at a very big event, the year after she passed away. But in 2017, I did hallucinate at night during the second event, I thought I saw people everywhere in meadows and in places where I thought, why are you here? It turned out to be just a pole, a reed collar, or nothing at all. The second night was really too strange as well.
How is it with the development of the material, do you see a difference every year?
I used to get a new board every other year and every time the material got better. But everyone gets better around you, so you just grow together and you don’t notice that in the field of competitors, everyone is more or less set in the ranking. The one who is first will not finish 5 th all of a sudden or the one who finishes 5th will not necessarily become 1st. But you do notice that the average speed increases considerably every year. Where previously it was very normal to paddle 6-6.5 hours to cross a certain distance, nowadays it is just 5 hours. That’s material, but that’s also because the athletes are training more focused on the competitions and are becoming more and more proficient in the sport they’re doing, so it’s being made more and more professional by the people themselves. The right material gives so much more training comfort. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to think about such things anymore. That’s the other side for me, I have to make extra hours every time I want to make an extra purchase. I don’t mind using stuff for a year longer when a race is postponed, I often find it more than good enough, but I always find it so annoying for the people who help and support me when you have to say: Well guys, it’s not going to be this year for such and such a reason. You know it can happen, although you hope not. Certainly now with Covid, there are so many things you can’t control.
Did you do a specific training routine to prepare for the 2-in-a-row challenge?
No, but that’s because I didn’t have the time and didn’t have the budget for that. Look, there are a few things that are really crucial to being able to do this kind of thing. If you want to improve and want to go faster, you have to professionalize yourself. To be able to do that, there are 2 things crucial and that’s having time and when do you get time, you no longer have to work for your money. With 2 full-time jobs, it’s pretty hard to put enough time into your workouts to make really big strides in your paddling. I can now train for an hour every day and I’m happy about that if I can manage it during summer. Reality is that sometimes it’s just not possible because of work and sometimes you can’t train for 2 days. Where fellow athletes are in the position, in terms of work and sponsorship, to spend more time on it, you will see they develop much more. I’m never going to keep up with them.
Food, how important is that to you?
Janneke swears by a peanut butter sandwich for example (Janneke Smits is the female World Record holder longest-distance-paddled-in-24-hours) She is not normal, she can paddle 220 km on 3 sandwiches!! I’m 100% the opposite. With me it’s eating, eating, eating and even then I lose kilo during a competition. After the non-stop, I get off my board 3 kilos lighter, in spite of consuming so much. My strategy is, every 2 hours I stop and then it’s eating a meal, that can be pasta or pancakes. As long as I can consume it really fast , it’s for 5 minutes eat, eat, eat and go on, otherwise I don’t even make it to the finish line in time.
Do you choose special meals with as many calories as possible?
I actually eat things that I can easily get inside, something can still be so good for you, but if you don’t like it, it’ll be too hard to swallow and you don’t get anything in. So I eat pancakes with jam or honey, which I can consume very easily, very quickly, almost without chewing, like bananas. I swear by ripe bananas that get a little brownish because you can swallow them without chewing and I can repeat that many times in a day.
Do you count the calories in advance for a race?
I tried it very seriously for a year, but then you are so busy counting and calculating. I have, if I do a nonstop, a team with me that makes sure I have food and drinks every time I stop. They make sure I eat, drink in time and they keep track of what needs to go in. All I’m focusing on is what I need to get through for the next two hours: Do I need another piece of cake, do I need extra water or an extra bar with me, do I want to have my music yes or no. I’m just doing that kind of thing. I do have the total overview of what’s going on with food, but I’m not going to interfere with it because I just want to be relaxed on my board.
I did learn a lot though about food from you.
Certainly, but for a race like the 11-city tour, I’m focusing on high in carbohydrates, high in protein and is it easy to digest? But am I going to count calories during the race, no. The only thing I know is that if I eat every 2 hours, I’ll get to the finish line. That’s been my strategy for years, but the last 30 km, then I want to have a pizza, I want to have a bag of chips and I want to have greasy dirty sausages and an apple pie and preferably all at the same time and mixed together.
Have you ever experienced that your food went down wrong?
Yes, I have had that before and then you literally have to get off your board fast and look for the bushes and then just keep going. The only thing you have to trust, is that you know your body and that your body can calm down again by finding the right rhythm, that’s very important.
Do you go into full detail to prepare for a race?
Like the direction of the current? That makes no sense, certainly not in the Netherlands. There are pumps throughout the Netherlands and it is just how that pump works, how the current flows. So you can have it flowing against you one time, while a few days later you have it in the back. What I’ve learned over the years is, I always train with GPS. I pretty much log every training I do, I want to know what my speed was on which part, I can see my workouts per 500 meters, in terms of speed, in terms of heart rate and things like that. But as soon as I go into the race, I put all this aside, I don’t want to know during the race how fast I’m going because that’s what my training is for. I’m training to know exactly what I can do and how it should feel. And when I’m in the race, I’m not going to be concerned with what my GPS meter says. I’ve seen so many athletes go to pieces, because they’ve trained and they say: I can do 9 km per hour and I can keep that up for hours, but they forget that there is a little more wind that day, that you have a small current against you in the water and that therefore you’re not going to reach that 9 km per hour. I started to let go of that a long time ago. Training and everything you do is with GPS and then you can analyse everything, but as soon as you go into the race, you have to trust that you have all that information in your body and you really have to do it on instinct. When you’re going to push, you’re paddling yourself to pieces.
What would you advise people who want to start supping?
The world is so beautiful from the water, enjoying nature from the water is so much better than from the car. Supping is very accessible as a sport, you don’t have to have the intention to get good or to be fast, just go out on the water, discover the world from there and then you also know why we have to be so careful with it. Water sports are wonderful, enjoying nature is wonderful and nowadays people sit inside far too much, so just go outside and enjoy all the beauty. Supping is not difficult, but depending on the material you have, you can make it a lot more difficult.
Who do you look up to in the SUP world?
The world in this sport is so small, I know when I started I had Bart de Zwart who I really looked up to and I thought: I also want to paddle those extreme distances just like Bart de Zwart. When I finished in 2017 he was waiting for me at the finish line. He was the first one who reached out his hand to get me off my board. I once said to him: Bart I hope that one day, I can follow in your footsteps and that I can come close to what you do. I met him during the race in 2017, when I started the last day of the 5-day race, he came paddling straight at me, just to give me a high five and when I got off the board he said: Well friend, you don’t have to follow in my footsteps, you’re standing next to me. Golden guy!
What’s still on your bucket list?
What else would you like to do in sports? I am currently preparing a new project, I am not going to say too much about it yet because it is really still very much in initial stage and we are still working on a lot of things with the MVDW Foundation. In 2022, the plan is to make a bigger trip again, over several days and that will be well over 400 kilometers.
I just wanted to ask if you wanted to paddle along from Switzerland to the Netherlands, which I’m planning!
One that I also have on my list! I’ve been thinking for some time already of starting maybe Austria or Switzerland.
So there’s more to come!