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Protecting the playground of all wave lovers, an interview with the Surfrider Foundation Holland

Founded in 2008, Surfrider Chapter Holland is a fairly new, ambitious addition to the Surfrider Foundation. Besides  their main objectives to ‘keep  our sea and beaches clean’ and ‘protecting our spots’, they stood  at the cradle of the Sand Engine, an innovative and experimental method for coastal defense as well as a great new surf spot in the North Sea. In a country predicted to be flooded by the rising sea-level within the century, the Sand Engine is a unique opportunity to see if we’re able to protect land with nature. Martijn van Schaik, board-member and co-founder of SFH, introduces the Sand Engine and explains SFH’s participation in the project, while Clean Beaches coordinator Vincent Balk talks about what SFH as a grassroots organization represents.



Sanderz: SFH is a relatively new chapter of the Surfrider Foundation Europe. What are the main objectives of SFH and how are these objectives being realized?

Vincent: Although SFH is a chapter run by volunteers, we have very ambitious objectives. We strive for a coast which is accessible and surf friendly, seas and beaches which are litter free and waves which give you stoke and not some weird rash or sinus infection. In short we aim to protect the playgrounds of all wave lovers.

These objectives have been converted to our three main programs: Clean Beaches, Clean Waves and Save Our Spots. In these three programs we develop campaigns.

Trash Kills | photo: Surfrider Foundation Europe

Ocean Initiatives | photo: Surfrider Foundation Europe

Sanderz: Can you illustrate one of these objectives with an example?

Vincent: The coastal waters in the Netherlands are on the whole pretty clean. There are none the less moments and areas when certain surf beaches become contaminated by sewage waters. Although our government does frequent measurements these moments of high contamination always seem to fall below the radar. Therefore the extent of the impact and the amount of surfriders effected is unknown. The first step, the ‘how big is the problem and is it effecting our health’ question is being  addressed as we speak. 

Sanderz: Is there a difference in approach of these goals in comparison to the other European countries?

Vincent: This is a difficult one to answer. I would suspect that each country has its cultural differences and subsequent manners of communicating. We try to approach the issues bottom up and with the fun factor. When we meet people from other chapters its always great fun and I always leave with a lot more energy.   

Sanderz: For the campaign ‘Rise Above Plastics’ 700 volunteers filled 450 garbage bags with waste during the Beach Clean Up in March 2012. In what way has the waste being processed?

Vincent: Every municipality in which a beach cleanup was organized offered their support by helping the organizers get rid of the collected waste. This waste was then incinerated as is done with al mixed waste in the Netherlands.

© Sandra Stubenvoll

Beach Clean Up March 2012 photo: SFH

photo: Surfrider Foundation Europe


Sanderz: Besides the Beach Clean Ups, what else is being done for the ‘Rise Above Plastic’ campaign?

Vincent: The ‘Rise Above Plastic’ campaign in Europe is still in its infancy.We at Chapter Holland have (together with our partners) an ongoing kids education program on the beach which includes surfing, cleaning and an integrated educational element. Furthermore, we support our partners (the North Sea Foundation and Seas at Risk) with input and media attention for marine litter issues. And we always communicate the pick up 3 slogan. ( )

Rise Above Plastics/ Kids Education photo: SFH


Sanderz: ‘The Sand Engine’ is a unique, artificial peninsula, a field experiment for a sustainable and natural answer to the regular beach replenishments, necessary to enforce the coastline. Can you introduce ‘The Sand Engine?

Martijn: In order to strengthen the Dutch coast and protect the country the Dutch government developed a project called the Sand Engine. This is  a huge deposit of sand in a hook shaped peninsula. This will change the coastline for at least 15 years. The project will entail the deposition of massive quantities of sand along the Dutch coastline (approximately 20 million m3 in total) and the ‘Sand Engine’ will gradually erode and re-distribute its sand naturally along the coastline under the influence of currents, waves and tides. Concerned about possible effects, both positive and negative, SFH got involved in this project.

Sand Engine July 2011 photo: Rijkswaterstaat/Joop van Houdt

Sand Engine July 2011 Photo: Rijkswaterstaat/Joop van Houdt

Sand Engine November 2011 photo: Rijkswaterstaat/ Joop van Houdt

Sanderz: What has been FSH’s ‘successful contribution’ to the realization of ‘The Sand Engine’?

Martijn: It was the first large beach replenishment project in which surfers got involved as official stakeholders. This in itself is already a success for the Dutch surfers, a small community in a country which is always in a fight with the sea in order to claim land and prevent flooding. The Sand Engine was the first project in which the ‘building with nature’ principle was implemented. This means that natural processes are applied to strengthen the coast.

Secondly SFH guaranteed access to most of the area. There was a severe risk that the area might be inaccessible if rare species of plants and animals were to be found on the Sand Engine, because of nature and biodiversity policies. SFH is an environmental NGO, but we are convinced that environmental protection can be combined with extensive recreation. SFH made sure that the Sand Engine would be an area for both the development of  nature and recreation. So even if rare species appear in the area it will remain accessible.

SFH was planning to have more influence on the design of the project in order to improve surfing conditions. But in the end SFH did not have that much influence on the design, because the Sand Engine was a pilot project and  mainly focused on the strengthening of the coast. Nevertheless we were able to make some minor changes.

Sand Engine Full Throttle

Sanderz: The Sand Engine Full Throttle,claiming new land. Claim your wave on the Sand Engine during Surfrider Foundation’s ‘Expression Session’.How do you claim your wave on the new land during the ‘Expression Session’?

Martijn: SFH is organizing a low key event on the Sand Engine in order to celebrate the success we had and celebrate the gaining of a great new surfspot. In order to do this we will organize a small surprise expression session for our Facebook followers. Join us on:

Sanderz: There is also opposition against ‘The Sand Engine’. They fear that the change in currents due to the realization of this new land will be hazardous to swimmers and surfers. How is this situation being dealt with?

Martijn: Since the Sand Engine  is a pilot project and  a totally new way of strengthening the coast there always will be people who oppose or fear these new developments. SFH used a positive view point, focusing on the possible benefits of the project, a kind of sandy point break, which would be great. During the whole process we worked closely with Surfreefs, a company specialized in studying and designing reef, sandbanks and surfing conditions. Subsequently we had access to knowledge thatconvinced us that the risks were  minimal. Surfers are our primary stakeholder so we focused on them. Surfers are much less vulnerable to rips and currents since they have a board. So there is less risk for them. Throughout most of the process there were many predictions and models shown by the government bodies. Somewhere in the process you have to take some things for granted, since there are so many uncertainties that we would otherwise get stuck. Now that the Sand Engine has been completed, nature is behaving somewhat different than predicted. None the less, there have been no dangerous currents observed around the Sand Engine and a great new surf spot is a fact.

Sanderz: With the program ‘Save our Spots’ SFH is working actively for the preservation and improvements of surfspots. How is this put into practice?

Martijn: SFH’s SOS program is mainly focused on lobbying to preserve and improve surfspots. SFH gets involved in order to represent the interest of all surfers: wave, kite and wind-surfers. The emphasis is on beach replenishments and coastal strengthening projects, like the Sand Engine. Currently our main focus is on the coastal strengthening in the province of North Holland. The current design will entail the construction of a 200 meter wide beach in from of the dike and jetties. The current spots of Camperduin, E.T.’s and Petten will disappear under meters of sand. A great loss. We cannot stop this project. Obviously safety is more important than surfing interests. Nevertheless we succeeded in getting surfing interests included in the project and the project management is now required to give attention to the surfers. How this all will turn out is very uncertain. But we are sure that the current great surfspots will be lost. In order to get more attention on our agenda we are planning to organize a spot burial. A symbolic funeral service to say farewell to these great spots.

water pollution photo: SFE

photo: SFE

'Environmental Art' photo: SFH

Another objective is to get a network of local surfers and beach lovers which we call, the keepers of the coast. They will be, in a way, our eyes and ears at the local spots. SFH is working nationwide and we are all volunteers. We cannot keep track of all small developments along 451 KM’s of coastline. What we can do is to support locals to defend surfing interest and to improve surfspots and safety. So feel free to contact us.

We really would love to work on safety regulations in relation to swimmers and watersports, but due to a lack of time and resources we have to focus on our core objectives: the preservation and improvement of all Dutch surf spots.

Sanderz: The question we ask all interviewees: what do you do in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint?

Vincent: I try to do my part, and although I do my best to save water and not to flush crap down in to the sewers, separate my waste fanatically, only eat meat/fish once or twice a week, grab the bike and train for work, live in a very energy efficient house and try to buy green/fair products… I am not able to let a good opportunity for a surf trip with car of plane pass me by…


photo: SFH


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