Dalsland Canoe Marathon: The Hardest and Biggest Adventure of Your Life

Imagine you are sitting in your kayak or canoe and you have over 700 others around you. You are all waiting for the big bang at 8 AM and start to paddle at the same time. In front of you, you have 4 lakes and 55 KM that you have to manage and finish in the next 11 hours!

55 KM in 11 hours sounds easy since we are used to sit in a car and simply accelerate to get from A to B. But to paddle 55 KM with just muscle strength is more difficult than you think and a huge challenge!

The Dalsland Canoe Marathon

This year over 700 participants were part of this yearly race. There is only a small portion that are real pros and see this race as a competition, the majority is taking part to have a good time and maybe to proof themselves that they can actually do it!

The event is taking place for more than 10 years on the second saturday of August. In 2014 this was the 9th of August and brings canoers and kayakers from all over Europe in a little swedish town in West Sweden together. More than half of the participants come from abroad.

The whole race takes you over four difference lakes. After every lake you have to leave the lake with your kayak or canoe and carry it to the next one. These little breaks are the places where you will loose most of the time. It is recommended to bring your own wheels to push the kayak from one lake to the other, otherwise you will depend on the help of others since you can’t move your kayak yourself from A to B. The first stop is about 400 meters long.

4 Lakes and 55 kilometers in 11 Hours

The race takes you over the lakes Laxsjön, Svärdlång, Västra Silen und Lelång. To get a little orientation you will see yellow buoys along the way that indicate the way. Every 5 kilometers you will find big buoys with the covered distance. These always give you a little extra motivational kick to paddle a little faster, at least for a few minutes until it gets hard again.

Of course you don’t have to paddle 55 kilometers at once. This is why the organizers installed all those stopovers on the way between the lakes. Volunteers will serve you bread, bananas, salted cucumbers (good for your muscles) and energy drinks. At the last stopover, at kilometer 45, you even have the option to get some coffee to keep you awake for the last kilometers.

As mentioned you have 11 hours to paddle the 55 kilometers. Therefore you have to pass the different waypoint before a certain time, when they close them. In Gustavsfors the station closes at 3 PM and the one at Heerenäs closes at 5 PM.

After the Dalsland Canoe Marathon

After this exhausting race, the volunteers will lift your kayak out of the water for you and place it on the green and you can finally relax and get a massage and get something to eat. A Party or something similar doesn’t really exist. A few of the participants go to Hotel Dalia where they have a drink, check a few pictures from the race and quietly disappear. I think it’s pretty difficult to organize such an event, especially the end since the participants arrive at different times.

The elite, the ones that start from the front and see the race like a competition, finish the 55 Kilometers in 4:20 hours. This is crazy, amateurs like I need the full 11 hours to finish!

What does the Dalsland Canoe Marathon cost?

There are different prices for the Dalsland Canoe Marathon, depending on when you sign up:

  • SEK 500 per person (till 31. October)
  • SEK 600 per person (1. November – 31. December)
  • SEK 700 per person (1. January – 31. March)
  • SEK 800 per person (1. April – 31. May)
  • SEK 900 per person (1. June – 31. July)
  • SEK 1000 per person (1. – 9. August)

The later you sign up the more expensive it is going to be. So sign up today!

My experience at the Dalsland Canoe Marathon 2014!

Between the 7. And 10. August I was traveling through West Sweden and the Dalsland Region and loved every second of driving through that landscape with my Volvo rental. An incredible view followed the other, no matter where I was. I went horseback riding, fed moose and attended the hardest canoe marathon of the world.

On August 9th I woke up at 5 A.M. at Hotel Dalia. After a good breakfast to fill up my energy levels I took the free shuttle at 6:15 from Bengtsfors to the starting line at Baldernäs. There all kayaks were already lined up in groups and waiting for the participants to put them into water.

Just before 8 everyone was in the water and was waiting for the big bang. An incredible feeling to be sitting among 700 other kayakers and canoes in the misty water. The weather that morning wasn’t that good and the lake was covered with dense fog.

At 8 A.M. sharp the race started and over 700 Kaykers started paddling simultaneously causing many waves and making it hard to not roll over. Many were was screaming, having a great time and pushing themselves for this great event. Except me! My rear paddle broke at the first attempt to steer and I spent the first 15 to 20 minutes of the race fixing it. Once this was done, I was the only one sitting in the water while hundreds where looking at me. The patrol boats came by to help etc… I started last but was motivated to get going.

After about 45 minutes of paddling I caught up on the slow ones from the main group and was passing one paddler after another. Great, I thought, this is going to be a great day. Little I though what was waiting ahead of me.

The first lake, lake Laxsjön, was 6 kilometers long and has a dam, which you have to pass by carrying your kayak. If you have no rolls like I had, I was depending on others to help me move the kayak the 500 meters up the hill. I lost a lot of time here since I also helped others.

At Svärdlång, the second lake, between Skåfors and Skifors was 14 kilometers long and was really hard. The lake is pretty narrow but very long making it hard to use places as checkpoints to measure the distance you’ve covered or have to cover. The lake seems endless. But the landscape around me was just incredible. I lost myself many times thinking how beautiful it would be to just stop and stay there for a while. The nature in West Sweden is simply incredible!

It took me almost 6 hours to get to Gustvsfors, the third waypoint, at about 35 kilometers. Already at kilometer 25 I was about to quit. An old injury from when I was hit by a car in Sydney came back and it really hurt. I clenched my teeth and kept paddling. The whole day was an emotional roller coaster!

At kilometer 35 I was just about to quit but after a massage and two pain killers I wanted to prove myself that I can do it. At 2.45 PM (15 minutes before the station closed) I let my kayak into the water and kept paddling. This time a little calmer than the previous 35 kilometers. That went well for about 3 kilometers until I left the canal and got onto Lelång Lake, the big one. The wind changed a few hours earlier and was not hitting me and other kayakers full force into their face. I had another 15 Kilometers ahead of me and was moving at a pace of 2 to 3 km/h.

During the whole event there always were dinghies with red flags with volunteers that, from a safe distance with binoculars, made sure that everyone was ok. On Lelång, for the first time they came closer to speak to me and asked me if I was ok and if I still had the strength to go on an paddle against the wind or if I wanted to quit and they would call me a bus to get me back to the finishing line.

Stopping – or rather quitting – was not an option for me. I wanted to get to the finishing line and would do everything to get there. After an hour I moved about 2,5 kilometers. Now the dinghies came every 10 minutes to check on me. I felt like I wasn’t moving and I’m sure that at some point the wind was so strong, that I was moving backwards.

At kilometer 45 it was over. I didn’t make it to the checkpoint at Heerenäs on time and the wind was getting stronger. Jan, a police officer from Stockholm, who volunteers at the event every year, told me to stop and to get in his boat. This was it! We put the kayak into his little boat and he drove me to the finishing line. My ego was broken and everything hurt!

Looking back, I’m happy that I participated and don’t see the early ending as defeat anymore. Many others quit before me and I just simply wasn’t allowed to keep going because it was too dangerous.

The event was one of the best things I’ve done in the last years, even though I couldn’t move for a few days following the event!

Renting Canoes and Kayaks in Dalsland

If you want to rent a canoe or a kayak in Dalsland for the marathon or for your holidays in the region you can get in touch with following operators:

Silverlake Camp & Kanot


Villa Smile






Renting lake huts in West Sweden

While paddling the many kilometers I saw all those amazing huts on the shores of the lakes and wondered how cool it must be to be living in one of them for a few days or even weeks in the middle of nature and was wondering if there is a place to rent some of them. Guess what, there is! Y

 Have you ever attended such an event or would you be interested to challenge yourself with such an adventure?

Sebastian Canaves
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