The Netherlands isn’t known for world-class waves. Even though it has a thriving surf community and some really good surfers, the fact is that most of the waves tend to be short-period, wind-driven and break relatively far out on gently-sloping beaches. The Dutch coastline is situated in the southern part of the North Sea, where powerful, long-period swells are few and far between.
However, there is one spot that stands out from all the rest. Affectionately known as the Maasvlakte-2, this spot sticks out much further into the North Sea than the rest of the coastline, and has much deeper water directly offshore. As a result, it has powerful, hollow waves that break close to the shore. Allard Pheifer is a Regional Ambassador for the Holland Surfing Association, and he describes the Maasvlakte-2 as one of the most iconic surf spots of the Netherlands: “With the right conditions it gives a hollow barrel close to the beach on the shallow sandbars, normally unheard-of on the Dutch coastline”. He goes as far as saying that the waves are “Not inferior to world-class surf spots situated in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Sounds epic, right? Particularly since we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and most of us in Europe are unable to travel to faraway tropical paradises with perfect waves; and so Dutch surfers, just like the rest of us, are learning to enjoy what we have on our own doorsteps. A new ‘normal’ that we need to maintain after the virus goes away, because if we don’t cut down on flying, we won’t have a liveable planet for our kids and grandkids.
But there is a problem. Twelve wind turbines are planned to be built right along the shoreline at Maasvlakte-2. This will seriously interfere with surfing there, if not make it downright dangerous. At high spring tides, the windmills might actually end up in the line-up. “It could be possible that you run straight into a windmill while coming out of the barrel” says Pheifer.
The reason they are planned in such a terrible place is that the other, more sensible, location – namely further inland on the other side of the dune – would interfere with some underground piping and cables. Regulations state that a certain safety distance is required from other infrastructure to avoid damage to that infrastructure if the windmill fails. Therefore, the developers decided that the shoreline was the only place they could put them.
But what about the ‘safety distance’ from surfers and other coastal water users? Well, in the Environmental Impact Assessment, the safety risk for surfers was declared to be negligible. However, Pheifer points out that they didn’t consider high spring tides (when the devices will be in the impact zone) and they didn’t consider the longshore current, which makes it virtually impossible to stay away from the monopiles. The norm at the Maasvlakte is to catch a wave, drift along, catch another one, drift a bit more, then eventually get out and walk around.
If you are a kiter, the situation is even worse. If the project goes ahead, kitesurfing will be banned at Maasvlakte. Just like that. In other words, the developers (a large Dutch energy company called Eneco Netherlands whose main business is oil and gas) have a right to ban kites, but the kitesurfers have no right to ban the windmills. Big Energy can make up the rules as they go along because they are more powerful than the citizens to whom they sell their products.
There is a possible solution. Pheifer and the Holland Surfing Association believe that the people who wrote the Environmental Impact Assessment simply didn’t thoroughly look at all the options and didn’t properly consider the needs of surfers and kitesurfers. Putting those huge machines in such a ridiculous place could be avoided with a bit more careful examination. “The Holland Surfing Association (HSA) will submit a notice of objection to the municipality to enforce a discussion and further development work to better trade-off all the different options, also weighing the interests of surfers and kitesurfers. Hopefully that will result that the wind turbines will be relocated towards or on top of the dunes.” says Pfeifer. With help from the international surfing and kiting communities, the objection will have a lot more weight. HERE is the petition.
In conclusion, we obviously need to switch over to renewable energy as soon as possible to help bring us away from climate chaos – nobody is denying that. But does that mean we have to sacrifice activities like surfing and kitesurfing, activities that bring us joy and happiness directly tapped from the energy of Nature? Isn’t there a way that we can have both?
The kiting ban is particularly ironic: people are not allowed to use the wind to bring them joy and happiness, because somebody wants to convert that wind into electricity. Much of that electricity will probably be used to run devices like 52-inch televisions that make people’s lives better, or spin dryers that give people more spare time. Spare time that they can use to do things like surfing and kitesurfing.
And finally, another irony: Now that Dutch surfers can’t travel, their environmental footprint is automatically going down, which is exactly what we need if we are going to help mitigate the climate crisis. But somebody wants to take away the best surf spot on their doorstep to build a machine that will help mitigate the climate crisis. Are we going round in circles? You tell me.
Go HERE to sign the petition.