The sport involves a long pole and a body of water. The pole is between 8 and 13 m long and has a flat round plate at the bottom to prevent it from sinking into the muddy river or canal bottom.
A jump consists of a sprint to the pole (polsstok), jumping and grabbing it, then climbing to the top of the pole while trying to control its forward and lateral movements over a body of water, and finishing by landing on a sand bed opposite to the starting point.
Due to the Netherlands being under sea-level, it has many waterways. Fierljeppen originated as a way for Dutch people to get around the waterways easily. Over time it turned into a competition with the first official match in 1771 but the sport was not properly structured until 1957. The sport is believed to have originated with farmers who used poles to leap over small water drainage channels to access different plots of land. In the German region of East Frisia this sport is known as Pultstockspringen. Today the sport is primarily practiced for fun or to entertain tourists, but there still is an official annual National Fierljepping Manifestation (NFM) in the Netherlands, and championships are contested in six leagues and numerous clubs.
The current Dutch record holders by category are:
- Veterans: 20.60 meters, Theo van Kooten from Haastrecht, South Holland (31 July 2013, Linschoten)
- Seniors: 21.51 meters, Bart Helmholt from Burgum, Friesland (27 August 2011, Linschoten)
- Juniors: 20.41 meters, Jaco de Groot from Woerden, Utrecht (9 August 2006, Linschoten)
- Boys: 19.24 meters, Age Hulder from Burgum, Friesland (1 August 2009, Linschoten)
- Ladies: 17.02 meters, Marrit van der Wal from It Heidenskip, Utrecht (20 June 2014, IJlst)
There are 532 registered active jumpers in the world; of those, 190 are from the Netherlands.
Fierljeppen through out the world
International tourists who have visited Friesland and who have observed this sport have helped to spread its popularity throughout the globe. Competitions in other locales now take place, albeit at a less competitive level due to smaller numbers of athletes and the lack of suitable locations.
Many Americans were first introduced to the sport, here referred to as "ditch-vaulting", on Season 12 of The Amazing Race. This same task would be performed 9 seasons later as a "switchback" task.
The Japanese reality TV Series called Sasuke (also called Ninja Warrior) has also featured this obstacle.
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