Island Bliss

Island Bliss

Words and photos Tomas Grootveld @iseastories unless otherwise stated

There are gems to be found for the ones willing to seek. We hear it ever so often, but do we still really find them? I come from a country where the coastline is straight and where winds are onshore for the most part of the year. The North Sea funnels down from the North-West bringing big waves and big winds in winter and small onshore waves in summer (at best). But we do indeed have some gems and they were not too hard for me to find after all.

When I was 21 years old I started working for a surf school in Zandvoort. The waves were pretty average mostly, but I loved to spend time on the beach away from the city. The summers in Holland are packed on the beach though and Zandvoort becomes a strip of sand clogged up with all the people that live in a 50 km radius of it (basically 80% of the country’s population). I needed more space and more waves.

Cor de Jong slides away.

At the same time our surf school was expending, as the crowded beaches turned out to be good for something after all and so a year later I found myself on one of the Wadden Islands. The smallest one of the five that are inhabited: Vlieland. I was a mediocre surfer at best when I arrived there. I had surfed in a few countries and gained some experience but my surfing was nothing special.

On Vlieland I stuck to the good old soft top for the most part and I honestly had heaps of fun. The only people in the water outside the surf lessons were me and my colleague and the seals. Whenever there was a big swell on the charts, accompanied by favourable winds, we would grab our bikes and head west in search of a good sandbank. This would mainly happen in the pre-season, when we were still building up the surf school. The nights were cold and the amenities very basic and we camped from May until September. But this was living. We spend our days outside, ate peanut butter sandwiches all day and surfed whenever we could.

Empty line-ups, hell yes.

One day, the forecast looked promising and we were determined to get a session in. It must have been some day in May. Our surf school is not actually on the beach, but just behind the dunes, so you can’t see the waves from it. We decided not to go too far west and dropped our bikes after a 15 minute ride at the hotel on the beach. The sight we encountered was pretty incredible. Big waves, hollow and powerful. I was a bit scared but my friend had a bit more experience, so we hyped each other up and paddled out. The current was relentless, the sets were endless. I paddled for about 30 minutes before finding myself disillusioned on the beach. I had witnessed the best waves I had ever seen though and my heart was awakened.

I’ve traveled to many places over the years. Spent winters abroad, surfing different waves around the world. But wherever I went, Vlieland was on my mind.

Jeroen van der Kolk and the acceptable type of Corona.

I started spending more time there, explored more of the island. I bought a water-housing for my camera and spend a lot of time alone in the sea. It calmed me down, looking at waves break, whenever my mind was full.

The surf school grew and the surf spot closest to the surf school saw a steady rise in the amount of surfers. I would describe it as a longboard spot, since a sandbank a few kilometres out a sea slows the waves down a bit. The island’s coast makes a slight bend here, making for some nice lefts. If you go more west, there are shortboard options too, since there is no sandbank slowing down the waves.

The beach got more crowded too over the years, but it’s still peanuts compared to the coast of Holland. A gem, Vlieland, is not even hidden. I would be crazy to share it with you right, but here’s the catch. The island has limited accommodation and getting there ain’t so easy. The boat takes 90 minutes for the passage and there is no van life, since cars are only allowed by locals. Prices on the island are also pretty high, since a lot of wealthy Dutchies found their peace here too. Buying a house is impossible for a poor surfer like me. And so I know there will always be empty sandbanks here.

Cor de Jong racing through Vlieland.

And I cherish the moments of bliss I have experienced here and keep coming back for more. Keep spending summer days on the dunes, waiting for that westerly swell and wind to light up our home spot ‘Prullies’. Searching for blackberries when the sea goes flat. Paddle around the buoy when the wind dies out. Skinny dip when the bioluminescent algae turn up. Look up when the Perseids Meteor Shower lights up the night sky. These are the days I live for. Island Bliss.

Your scribe Tomas Photo: Sille Wagensveld @sillewagensveld