Paddel Marathon in Estonia

Adventure and Community at the Võhandu Marathon in Estonia

Text and photos by Janine Schönbächler @schaienfotografie

Swiss Thomas Schillig SUP Ultra Long-Distance SUP Pro third in Estonia.

The Võhandu Marathon, a 100-kilometer paddle event, has evolved since its premiere in 2006 into one of the best-organized paddle competitions. This marathon takes participants along the picturesque Võhandu River, starting at Lake Tamula in the town of Võru and ending in Võipsu in Põlva County.

Event Overview

It seemed like all of Estonia was out to participate in this unique event. Over 1300 teams and solo paddlers took on the challenge, accompanied by numerous support teams passionately cheering on their paddlers. The atmosphere was electrifying – a true celebration of joy and camaraderie. The Võhandu Marathon attracts not only the best paddlers from Estonia but also international participants who appreciate the challenge and beauty of the course.

The Course and Challenges

The 100-kilometer course of the Võhandu Marathon is not only a physical but also a mental challenge. The river itself offers a varied landscape with picturesque shorelines and demanding sections with fast currents and several small and 2-3 large rapids. Participants must showcase not only their paddling skills but also their endurance and determination.

Spending time with the stand-up paddlers from Supster and Airboard was particularly impressive. These athletes demonstrated not only remarkable physical abilities but also an admirable team spirit and unwavering determination. The local paddlers, including Janno Rütter and his supporter, led me to fantastic photo spots where I could experience the atmosphere and passion of the Estonians up close. Joy and hardship were often closely intertwined, but the enthusiasm was omnipresent.

Starting Conditions and Atmosphere

Despite the cold temperatures – the starting gun fired at 07:00 in freezing conditions – neither participants nor spectators were deterred. Loud cheers and encouragement were heard from every bank. The contagious atmosphere carried the participants throughout the course. Starting in frosty conditions made the challenge even greater but also strengthened the sense of community.

Catering and Supplies

Another highlight of the marathon was the numerous refreshment points along the route. Throughout the course, there were countless festival tents where participants could eat and drink for free – all included in the 70-euro entry fee. These supply points offered not only a welcome break but also the opportunity to connect with other participants and supporters and share the common experience.

Finish Line and Recognition

The elite paddlers, who paddled practically without interruption, reached the finish line in less than 8 hours, where a hot sauna tent awaited them. For many, this was the crowning conclusion of an exhausting day. But regardless of speed, all participants deserved the utmost respect for their outstanding performance and courage to compete in such cold conditions.

Conclusion and Outlook

The Võhandu Marathon is more than just a race; it is a celebration of sport, community, and the indomitable Estonian spirit. This event demonstrates how sports can bring people together and inspire them to overcome their limits.

Congratulations to all participants – a truly impressive achievement! Hats off to everyone who took on this challenge. The Võhandu Marathon is a must for every paddler and a highlight on the Estonian sports calendar. I am already looking forward to next year and the new adventures that this remarkable marathon will bring.