Shredding Holland: my time catching mad waves with a crazy guy named Robert

I don’t really surf.  I’ve “surfed” once, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with my friend Mikey who’s way better than me and basically just babysat me as I floundered in the water.  That was two, maybe three, years ago. Since then I haven’t really touched a surfboard—but that doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t appeal to me. I mean come on, it’s surfing.  There might not be any better way to prove your coolness than an ability to casually accelerate down a wave on a fiberglass plank in front of your friends.  Therefore, since I’m by the coast in the Netherlands right now and need to find some fun experiences, why not try my hand at surfing once again? This time I did it right–I booked a surf lesson, not just a board rental, so that I could actually learn some techniques from someone who knew better than me.  This is how I met Robert. Robert and Tatiana, his wife and a yogi, run a surf school right outside the small and absurdly photogenic town of Leiden. “Surf school,” in this case, means two blue shipping containers placed next to each other right on the beach with a clothes rack of wetsuits, a few surf boards, and a picnic bench.  I get on the wrong bus to the beach, and show up a little late–there are already three people there before me. Three people and Robert, an incredibly enthusiastic middle aged surfer dude—bald, with puffy blond eyebrows and a thick Dutch accent. He hands me a wetsuit, which I clamber into, and then introduces me to my compatriots for the day: a couple local dudes that work at a bar just up the beach and a young teenage German, presumably on vacation.  (She does Taekwondo, Robert notes, so she’s got dope balance). 

Before I know it, we’re off to the water with boards in hand.  We quickly go through the basics, learning about proper board positioning and hand placement so you can position your weight effectively when you’re lying down and trying to catch a wave.  It’s supposed to be a two hour lesson, but Robert wants to just teach us for an hour so that we can find a cool spot for the second hour and then go surfing sans instruction. 

He’d usually put his head in his hands, then look up at me, grinning, and gesture for me to get back out there and try again.

I did alright for a little while; I had awful form, I flailed around like a mad man, but I could at least keep the board under me more than 50% of the time.  I’d fall off or lose my momentum, regain my footing, and then look over to where Robert stood and observed the fray. He’d usually put his head in his hands, then look up at me, grinning, and gesture for me to get back out there and try again.  The tide was going out and the rip current was strong, so it was always a tiring walk-then-paddle out to where the waves were that perfect beginners mix of clean and well-shaped but tiny. Rinse and repeat. Every fifteen minutes or so Robert called us back to the beach where we reviewed new techniques/worked a little bit on getting more basics down on solid ground before we tried it out on the water.  Eventually we reached a point where he seemed satisfied with our progress, and he pointed to a sandbar just a few yards off the beach right up the coast. We spent the next hour hanging out there, finding waves and catching them as best we could with our limited toolkit of surf skills. I think I made some backwards progress in the last half hour; it seems like the best moments of the day happened before I was left to my own devices. 

When we finished up, Robert offered to drive me back into the town.  That meant hanging out and helping pack up the shipping containers, then longboarding—yikes—from the beach to where he had his tiny little surf-sticker-covered silver car parked.  He waited patiently at every corner for me as I staggered around trying to balance on the longboard, although eventually he did suggest that we just start walking.  That turned out to be faster. We rode into town and chatted it up, and he dropped me off right by downtown after giving me a swath of suggestions of museums, landmarks, and restaurants to try around Leiden.  

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