Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Flying Dutchmen

Sitting back in Sydney from Holland with some serious jetlag (thought I had dodged that) at 6:00am, I am excited by the prospect of surfing Ballina and Lennox over the next week. So to wait for the rest of the city to wake I figured I may as well finally post this article I wrote some time ago about the Den Haag surfing community.
PhotobucketFrom: Huck Magazine

Expecting a 'you shoulda seen it yesterday,' on my arrival from Amsterdam, Hans is instead straightforward in true Dutch style. "On average we get three to four days of rideable surf per week".

Den Haag's surf beach Scheveningen looks like a lake. Picture perfect for spring tourists walking the promenade at the north end. Beach bars line the sand, carousels carry children and jumpers plunge from the long pier's bungy tower, making it feel decidedly like San Diego.
At the south end, large fishing trawlers are given clear passage by on-guard lighthouses through the hard grey concrete groynes and on the horizon endless ocean liners await access to Rotterdam's harbour, it's the Industrial North Sea, alright. And this is where sandbanks and surfers collect.

With no swell to share a few waves, Hans and I swill a coffee in his mate, Henk's surf shop-come-café, Sublime. Hans, 30, has surfed Scheveningen since he was 12, travelling from inland Holland before moving here when he was of age, to now, raising a young family. He mainly rides longboards, the heavier the better for ploughing through common Dutch slop.

Dedicated to the development of surfing in the Netherlands, he's director of the Holland Surfing Association and pushing the local government for better lifesaver training. He also owns a surf school, not only for beginners but running grom and nose-riding master-classes as well. But when school's out or there's no swell, he hobbies away, rejuvenating old Vespas.

Above him, a mounted poster advertising a local clothing line/surf flick hangs. The main photo is of a set of huge right-handers peeling perfectly. I ask where it is. Possibly to protect it, Hans says it's gone. It was only temporary, caused by pumping sand to reinforce the ever-threatened Dutch coastline. A smaller image within that poster is of Hans. Another image is of a bloke missing an eye. Moments later, in walks that guy. He and his friend have just bought and driven two old VW campers, classic surfmobiles, from Denmark to fix them up. Outside groms clatter about on skateboards – seems every Dutch surfer needs a hobby during the long flat spells.

The following weekend, my third visit to Scheveningen and again Huey is mellow. Not to sound like a bumper sticker, but I'd rather be surfing. It is however a chance for a coffee with Henk.

Surfing for five years, he admits being a committed Dutch surfer means travelling. Two months after a friend introduced him to surfing, he was in Bali. "It's like eating stale bread and then being served a fresh loaf. When guys go away for a month they come back a different surfer."

Hans and about 350 others have taken the Nederlands Kampioenschap Surf Tour to Moliets, France for its second round. Those left behind fill the void of another waveless weekend by popping in for a coffee and a laugh.

In such disparate conditions it must be hard to stay motivated. He shrugs it off. "As a surfer, you always want to surf," then offers the alternative. "It could be worse, you could be a German surfer with no coastline," before flashing a grin of great satisfaction.
He points to a picture hanging on the surf shop wall to reassure me they get waves. It's a nice little cover-up taken at De Zuid, Holland's best break. A perfect glassy A-frame with the rock wall in the background, it could be D'Bah on the Gold Coast. The biggest he's seen is smooth two-metre faces though it only happens about ten times a year. Photobucket

Hans had told me earlier that the HSA and locals had to protest to save De Zuid from being banned as a surf spot after a swimmer died there recently. They Paddled from De Zuid via river and canal systems to march dripping wet, steamer-clad and board under arm into City Hall's foyer. It worked. He said "The national news covered our story. It was great, surfers in Holland are still so unique."

Back in Amsterdam without a wave to my name, visiting Scheveningen's webcam I'm surprised to see a score of riders chasing just-surfable chop. Chop this snobby Byron-bred surfer would pay no mind to.
However Scheveningen's surf community seems bound by an enthusiasm that eclipses their waves, and a stoke that rides out the shit for those ten annual days of glassy A-frames. Between the wind chop and road trips, these are the ephemeral moments the locals live for – to down the tools of their hobbies and pick up the tools of a lifestyle.

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