What’s hip and happening at the grasslands?

How do we Frisians spent our time off? The Frisians in the Netherlands must have loads of it because perspectives for a job are about the lowest in the country. And those who have a job, face no traffic jams consuming precious hours every day either like the people of the cities in the south.

The people of province Friesland belong to the poorest of the country and have the highest unemployment rate. Yet, the people turn out to be the most happiest of the Netherlands. This according to research (2017) of the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek CBS ‘Statistics Netherlands’ and research (2019) of the Fries Sociaal Planbureau FSP ‘Frisian Planning Bureau’. The ‘Frisian Paradox’ as it also called. Read our blog post The Giants of Twilight Land to understand more about this paradox.

In this post we will focus on two important and traditional leisure activities that take place on the endless, flat grasslands. Knowledge of these activities might come in handy for retired city folk too, who romantically think of buying a house in a hamlet after retirement. Please first learn to enjoy the leisure activities before even considering buying a house on the grasslands in the northwest of Germany or in the north of the Netherlands. Make sure the same does not happen to you as with a well-known Dutch show master. Read or post Celtic-Frisian heritage: There’s no dealing with the Wheel of Fortune to hear his disillusion.

It is not until spring before something is happening at the soft grasslands. In wintertime there is nothing going on. Everything is wet, cold, grey, windy and closed. So, watch telly or read a library. Unless… it starts to freeze. When canals, rivers and lakes are frozen, everyone starts ice skating, and just as many selling cake and hot chocolate. Sadly, it has not much use spending many more words on ice skating ‘in the wild’ because it never or rarely freezes anymore, anyway. There are indoor ice-skating halls in for example the cities of Groningen, Heerenveen and of Oldenburg where you can learn skating. For just in case. Also, buy ice skates in advance, because once it freezes it is close to impossible to obtain them.

1. Ljipaaisykje

In springtime things are really kicking off. It is ljipaaisykje time. Try to pronounce this verb at your own risk. Some people choked on it. To ljipaaisykje can be broken down into: ljip (peewit), aai (egg) and sykje (to seek).

peewit eggs

Seeking for the eggs of the peewit is an emotional thing for the Frisians of province Friesland. The ‘sport’ used to be unrestricted. Concerned environmentalists, however, succeeded to restrict this free-time activity since the peewit population strongly decreased (specifically) in the Netherlands over the last decades. Every year, the Frisians try through court rulings and decisions to continue the tradition of seeking for peewit nests, but are losing each time more and more ground. Today, it is practically forbidden. The environmentalists concerns are understandable but it leaves the jobless and traffic-free Frisians with even more spare-time to kill at their endless grasslands.

Local bird-watch association, instead, seek for the nests of peewits and other endangered birds now. The birdwatchers mark the nests, so farmers can spare them while working the land with their tractors and other heavy machines. Of course, these bird-watch associations became an immediate big success. Many Frisians who used to seek for peewit eggs, joined these associations. It went viral. This way obtaining a permit as ‘birdwatcher’, and having a solid excuse to roam the grasslands looking for nests (and eggs).

Despite all efforts and all restrictions the population of peewits, and of other pasture birds, decreases still. In the Netherlands that is, because peewits as such are not endangered in Europe. It is a bit of a mystery, because the Frisians really did do their best to create a beautiful, clean lawn of their fields. Mowing the land six times a year, instead of the two times a few decennia back. Why is such a sterile, toxin-green turf not appealing for birds? Frisians are in the weeds to find the answer. For the record, also some good news, without suggesting any correlation. Populations of foxes, birds of prey have and feral cats increased. Furthermore, the volume of insects has decreased dramatically. In the weeds, they are.

2. Fierljeppe

Besides to ljipaaisykje, the other hip and happening thing to do at the grasslands, especially for high-school kids, is roaming the land with a leaping pole to jump ditches and trenches. Now, how cool is that?

The activity is called to fierljeppe in Mid-Frisian language and literally translates as ‘to far-leap’. It is called klootstockspringen in region Eiderstedt in Nordfriesland, and pulstockspringen or padstokspringen in Ostfriesland, Germany. The trick is not to fall in the water, and at the same time to stretch your limits by jumping each time an even broader trench. If you make it home dry, you did not grasp the essence of this activity. Try again!

fierljeppe / to leap far

There are three basic techniques how to leap.

The first technique is reserved for famkes ‘girls’. You place the pole in the water and jump with the pole between your legs. If you do not make it to the other side with your feet, the pole still might. As a result you are sitting on the pole above the water. Okay for a girl, but with a specific body part really aching if you are a boy. Do not say we did not warn you. This technique is reserved for famkes.

The second technique is the most common one (see picture above). You place the pole carefully in the ditch and, optional, walk two meters or so backward. Then you grab the pole and jump with both legs at one side of the pole. The trick is to take off in a straight line, and with just enough force. Too little velocity, you are hanging as dead weight clamped to your pole in the middle of the ditch, trying to delay the inevitable. Too much velocity, you have no time to stretch your legs and body reaching forward. And if by mistake you take off diagonally, the water distance to cover might be too demanding.

The third technique is the most thrilling and called boerenplons meaning ‘farmer’s splash’. When walking in the fields from a distance you spot a new trench, you lift the four meter long pole in the air and start running fast. Keep looking in front of you because there might just be another ditch you overlooked. The rule is to never stop running. When you have reached the ditch, continue with the same speed. Place the pole while running in the ditch and jump in one elegant flow. The thrill is twofold. Firstly, you have no idea how broad the ditch is going to be exactly when you start running. Secondly, you have no idea how deep the pole will sink into the black, smelly mud. So, in the worst-case scenario, the ditch turns out to be three meters or more wide, and your pole sinks at least two meter under the water surface. Two meters pole left to bridge three meters of water. Forget it. Ain’t gonna happen. At least you go down with a big bang, and you grasped the essence of to fierljeppe.

Of course, the real boss is king Radbod of Frisia. According to medieval legend he did not need a pole at all. With his white horse he even jumped the River Ems. It happened with so much force, that a hole in the shape of a horsehoe was left behind, which filled itself with water and became the Dollart Bay.

3. And more

Beside to ljipaaisykje and to fierljeppe more thrilling activities take place at the flat grasslands, especially sports like angling fishing and to keatse. The latter is a version of Basque pelote or vice versa, also called Frisian pelote.

sport fishing

Sport fishing can be done in all seasons. To manage expectations upfront: fishing and catching fish are two totally different things and have nothing in common. The same goes for ljipaaisykje, by the way. Seeking for eggs and finding eggs, are two totally different things too. Or, as the blind poet Tsjêbbe Hettinga would say it: “Yn dat sykjen sûnder finen” (‘In the searching without finding’).

Trying to explain to the reader of this post the rules of Frisian pelota or kaatsen game is almost impossible. Only a few people in province Friesland understand it. Therefore, the people who kaatsen are truly intelligent and besides that, they are sportive too. The curious thing about kaatsen is that the best player is chosen as king or queen. If you think this is weird, realize this king or queen at least has some kind of (yearly) exam before becoming or staying king or queen. If you see (old) garlands hanging on doors or walls of houses, it means these were earned for the achievements during a kaatsen game. We dedicated a seperate post to this sport in Donkey King.


Note 1 – If interested in fierljeppe know there is even a Fierljep Museum in the village of Noardburgum.

Note 2 – One other great way of killing your spare time is playing with mud. Frisians have enough mud. Read our post Racing the Wadden Sea with a mud sled.

Note 3 – If you want to know how to communicate with the people of the grasslands, check our instructions in our post Grassland Conversations.

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