We congratulate Tanja Ecker on her great success in Holland and of course we wanted to hear directly from her how she experienced the SUP 11 City Tour.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. First of all, congratulations on your victory at the SUP 11 City Tour. Not only was that a stellar performance, but you were also the first German to win this race.
What does this victory mean to you?
Thank you very much! Yes, for me this victory means very very much! Not only because it really is the “ultimate challenge” and one of the toughest races in the world, you have to endure over 5 long days partly on distances up to 50 kilometers, but also because I am very connected with the event. This year we had really tough weather conditions, from sun to rain and extremely strong headwind, everything was there.
In general, you have to be really well prepared to be able to keep up with the top group. Not only physically, but also mentally. In addition, this year it was also really close between Petronella and me and therefore exciting for everyone. That makes the victory even more surprising and special. My finish was super emotional and I will never forget! My friends Ella Oesterholt (who by the way won the Nonstop this year with a new record time) and Aukje Hofman jumped into the water and swam to me, which I didn’t expect at all. When Marije Elgersma handed me the 11-city cross in tears, it was over for me, so with the “not crying”. Thanks to the whole SUP 11 family and friends who cheered me on and were so happy for me, that makes it all so special for me! Even now it’s still not yet processed.
Wow wow what a moment!
Let’s turn briefly to the race: As we see in the stage times, the first 4 stages were a close race between you and Petronella (van Malsen). But on the last stage from Dokkum you were much faster.
Tell us briefly about that.
On the first days Petronella was able to gain a lead of about 1:20 min. after 48 kilometres. In the following days, the conditions were really tough, with wind gusts up to 70 kmh (headwind, of course). Therefore, we mostly paddled together the following days to save energy. In the first time trial over 12 km on day 3, I was able to turn Petronella’s lead into a 16 second lead for me and after day 4 I only had exactly 10 seconds lead.
The 5th stage over 27 km from Dokkum back to Leeuwarden is also a Timetrial. That means, you are not allowed to draft and you start with 30 second gaps. My advantage now was that I could chase Petronella and I didn’t have her behind me. Petronella is a super strong paddler and I knew I had to give everything on this day.
After 4 intense days I had to do my best race and if it was enough then it was enough and if not then not, because I had nothing to lose. I never thought I would win this year, especially because Petronella is so strong and can always come back. I came to Friesland to enjoy and have fun and that’s exactly what I had. I took in all the energy that the people around me gave me and just enjoyed what I was doing. That helped me immensely mentally. Because having the mental strength to persevere and enjoy even in difficult conditions is especially important. On the last day there were 250 paddlers on the water, which made it really choppy in some areas. I just adapted to the conditions and had fun. Always smiling helps to stay positive in difficult conditions and get through it. I just like being exposed to the elements. Thanks to a little pep talk from Ella in the morning, I was super motivated and extremely mentally pumped. Since I had survived the previous days well and had no physical injuries except for some pretty nasty blisters, I was able to give it my all.
In the end it was fortunately enough, whereby a big compliment to Petronella, who was extremely strong every day and also pushed me very hard to deliver. This year everything just worked out and I was able to perfectionize my routine regarding the nutrition, which in the end made the difference for me compared to previous years. A glass of salt water every morning and a slice of pineapple in the evening were part of this. If you want to know more about this story, you have to ask me personally.
The SUP 11 City Tour is one of the oldest races in the SUP sport and you have been there many times. You also work for the SUP 11 City Tour. Can you tell us something about your history with the race?
This year was the 5th time I participated. 2018 for the first time (5th place), 2019 (3rd place), 2020 (2nd place) and 2021 (2nd place). After my first participation in 2018, the event grabbed me in such a way that it is still the most beautiful event ever for me, that’s why I keep coming back. I like the challenge and “pushing your limits”, but also the whole community. You come as an individual and go as part of the family. Over the years I have learned so much and have taken away a lot of experiences that have shaped me for other competitions or situations. When you finish the SUP 11-City Tour, it strengthens you tremendously because you know what you are capable of.
I just took this incredibly great crew into my heart and the last two years I also involved my parents as volunteers. There is just an incredible energy coming from the whole event that makes you want to come back every year and spend a week (or longer) in the SUP11 Bubble.
Since the beginning of 2020, I’ve been part of the media team, working with Marije, Nynke and Marieke to produce content on social media throughout the year. Working in this team is just incredibly fun. I’m also writing my master’s thesis on how to make the SUP 11-City Tour more sustainable as an event. So yeah, I’m pretty closely involved with everything.
Why do you think a cycling-like race format is not more widespread in the SUP world? Or to put it another way, when the SUP 11 City Tour started, many thought there would be many races of this type around the world. Just like in cycling. But that didn’t happen.
I think that many organizers shy away from the effort for such an event. There is a lot of logistics and planning behind it and without a well-functioning team, it is almost impossible. With SUP11 X there is a similar format that organizes 5 day adventures all over the world. I myself co-organized SUP11 Sights this year and also work for the SUP11 X media team. New partners for new places are always being sought, so if anyone wants to do something like this, they can surely get in touch! I think there are a lot more places that are suitable for something like this and the interest of the paddlers is there after all, seeing that this year it was the biggest edition of the SUP 11- City Tour with 250 participants (after 14 years).
Some participants may also be deterred by the distance. But anyone can do it. The real heroes of these race formats are those who are sometimes exposed to the elements for 8, 9 hours and have much less rest when they arrive. But they make it and are happy to have accomplished this feat, and that’s what matters.
But now back to you, not only did you win the SUP 11-City Tour you were in Poland the week before at the ICF race and again the week before at the EURO SUP in Denmark.
You never seem to run out of energy.
No seriously, how do you manage to be at races for 2 weekends and then do a 5 day race last?
Honestly, I don’t know where that energy came from either (laughs). I think I just had fun. The European Championships in Denmark were really tough with the energy-sapping technical and then the World Championships, which weren’t so easy either. Looking back on the SUP 11-City Tour, it was the right decision to not finish the long distance race in Poland, which was a really hard decision to make at that moment. I just tried to recover as good as possible during the days in between. Sleeping was a bit difficult due to the adrenaline and caffeine, but that didn’t seem to come into play. Just like I hadn’t really prepared for Ultralongdistance at all this year. For me, just having the support from my friends and the crew helped me be mentally strong and enjoy the whole thing during the SUP 11-City Tour. When I have fun and enjoy what I’m doing, I can perform and get positive energy out of it.
Now that the dust has settled a bit, of course the question: What’s next? Is the season over?
What are your goals and dreams in the SUP sport?
The racing season is actually over. Now I also really need a break to come down and process everything mentally as well. I still have one thing to do and that is to go to Thailand to SUP11 Islands. After that, let’s see what’s in line for next year. Surely again the SUP 11-City Tour, German Championships and we also want to participate again at the Viking Challenge.
Do we know if there are any efforts in Germany to send a team to the ISA SUP World Championships?
As far as I know, no one from Germany is going to Puerto Rico. If someone would cover my expenses, I would go (laughs)
Tanja Ecker Bio
- Born in: Lörrach
- Occupation / Studies: Self-employed photographer / Bachelor in Sports Science/ Master student Sport Management and Sustainable Development
- Year of birth: 1992
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ecker.tanja/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tanja.ecker.549/
- Sponsors: 404, Hippostick, APSU Nutrition, Ma’kai, Black Project Fins, Supskin, Monkey Michelberger Coconut Water, Wickelfisch, Wijld