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Photo by Marleen Fouchier

Lost at sea

A Surfing Tragedy

A calm Monday in May is drawing to an end as gut-wrenching news from Scheveningen starts feeding into my timeline. A group of surfers got into trouble and are missing at sea. How many is uncertain, but at least two have been pronounced dead. 

The surf community in the Netherlands is rather small and Scheveningen can be seen as the epicenter. The jetty protecting the harbor, keeps the sand in place, making the waves less fierce than many other spots along the Dutch coast. But on this occasion, the jetty proved to be fatal. 

What follows is what became clear in the days after the accident. A very strong north-northwesterly wind was blowing that day, which had caused a huge amount of seafoam to build up in the corner where the jetty meets the beach. When the wind shifted to a more NNE angle at the end of the day, six surfers were caught off guard by the suffocating foam. Only one was pulled out of the sea alive. It could have happened to any of us and that’s what hit me the hardest. I realized that friends of mine could have been involved. Some phone calls later, I found out who was involved. I didn’t know the surfers that passed away personally but still, it felt like I had lost five friends. 

The next day I felt awful when more and more details about what had happened came to light. I was working on the land of friends that day up in Frisia. My mind kept drifting off to the surfers in Scheveningen. Their friends, their parents, and to the surf community in general. The muscles in my back started tensing up, a sign of an upcoming fever. A déja vu from two years ago.

I had just received a phone call from my mom. My father was sent to the hospital after being nauseous for days. Two brain tumors were found. I was in northern Spain and I had to get back home as soon as I could. I got ill, really ill. For 24 hours I lay shivering in bed. As if my body tried to take over the pain and suffering from my dad. A day later I flew home and I felt strong and belligerent, ready for the unfair fight that awaited our family. 

My father passed away one and a half years later. 

And so I found myself lying in bed again. Shivering and sweating. I felt the need to share the grief I felt and I headed to Scheveningen a day later. A sea of flowers had already emerged at The Shore surf school, it was a second home to three of the five surfers that lost their lives. The air was full of disbelief and sadness. Tears took over. I spend the day hugging, talking, crying, laughing. It felt good to be there and share grief over this loss. 

I realized that sharing the grief over the surfers lost at sea had also helped my grief for the loss of my father. It made me realize that the North Sea can be unforgiving and it made me realize how much I love spending time with my friends and how valuable life is.

I offered up my services as a water photographer for a paddle out that was being planned for the upcoming Monday. I strongly felt the love being radiated by a community that came together. I could crash at my friend’s place for the time being and planned to stay until the paddle out. 

The next day had a very different feeling to it. Friends and colleagues of the surfers who had lost their lives had paddled out in the morning for the first time after the tragic event. Sadness had been replaced by a sense of relief. I made myself useful at The Shore, giving the place a drip of fresh paint. A constant flow of people came in to pay their respects. 

As I took a moment at the memorial, a young man stepped beside me. ‘’Are you Tomas?’’ I was surprised because I didn’t recognize him straight away. ‘’I read your stories. About how you are dealing with the loss of your father. Do you have a moment to talk?’’.

I have been writing about my life for a few years now and I share my stories through my website. I write about the highs, but certainly also about the lows. I use my voice to show that we are not happy all the time and that we shouldn’t be; the idea of happiness we witness online is too often just an illusion.And now, at this moment, the essence of sharing my stories became very clear to me once more: to help not only myself but also to help others deal with our shared emotions.

This young man was the best friend of one of the surfers that passed away. Our conversation gave me an inside look into the life of two friends. How they had shared a workplace, where he had now built the coffin for his friend’s last journey. His story made me feel more connected to the surf community than ever before. It gave me more closure in a way as well. 

Later that day, the paddle out that was planned for the upcoming Monday got canceled. The fifth surfer that had gone missing still hadn’t been found and a paddle out wouldn’t be appropriate. After my conversation at the memorial, it felt like my mission in Scheveningen had come to an end. I realized that sharing the grief over the surfers lost at sea had also helped my grief for the loss of my father. It made me realize that the North Sea can be unforgiving and it made me realize how much I love spending time with my friends and how valuable life is.

A week later, I swam out with my camera. I have never seen the water of the North Sea so clear. The North Sea left me with mixed feelings. It had hurt me, taken away five fellow surfers. But it was also the only one that could heal me.

In remembrance of the five surfers lost at sea. You will not be forgotten.

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