The struggles of my first contest | Poederbaas New Year’s Surf
My feet are in the water and I am breathing heavily because of my far too enthusiastic warm up. My fellow competitors are talking to each other next to me. I have only one focus, the lineup. Nothing distracts me, but I also need to keep an eye out on the flags that indicate the start of the heat. We get five minutes to paddle out and I’ll need it. During the previous heat I notice that the outer banks are a lot better, but they’re really far out and there’s a ton of current to deal with. Round one heat two of the Poederbaas New Year’s Surf and I’m the surfer in blue. My strategy is clear. Stay in the contest area and catch a wave in the beginning of the heat because we only get 15 minutes. Surf to your ability and make sure you complete the wave, I tell myself. That’s the signal, time to execute!
Joop van Kempen
In front of the contest area a man prepares his two longboards. He’s clearly older than the other competitors and I decide to have a little chat with him. As it turns out he’s a bit of a local legend of Zandvoort (the Netherlands). But even more interesting is that he’s the actual founder of this event. Joop explains that he founded the ‘Zandvoort Surf Club’ almost a decade ago because the local surf scene needed it. “With a lot of passion and pleasure I have organised two surf events each year. One summer edition and one winter edition”, Joop explains. “After a few years we stopped the summer edition because of the poor wave conditions, but the winter one remains a success. Like today, the waves are good and the weather is perfect”.
At the age of 52 Joop is the oldest contender. “It’s an official contest but the categories are open to all and the fun of the event is also very important. This makes the event special because as a beginner you get the chance to compete against the best surfers or perhaps your guru. Even longboarders and shortboarders share the lineup. You learn a lot from these experiences, and it really brings everything together.” During his heat Joop surfs the inside waves on his longboard and his local knowledge gets him through the first round. But that’s not my strategy. I’m on one of my shortboards. I need to get out there and fast!
Don’t claim, don’t claim, DON’T CLAIM
Okay, just a mini claim under water. I’ll allow myself that, but no Medina chest pounding or Jordy Smith ‘Jesus Imitations’. Just be like John John, and claim from within. By the way, I have nothing to claim. I catch a medium size set wave on my backside. Bottom turn it, and get a small snap on the end section. Focus on landing and I stick it. Still it feels like I just got a 10 in the dying seconds of the Pipe Masters to clinch my first world title. Therefore, I fist pump vigorously under water and scream my lungs empty. Cool as ever, I resurface and get back into position. The only other competitor is the surfer in red. Either the others haven’t made it out yet, or have drifted wide of the contest area.
The main organiser of this seventh edition of the New Year’s Surf is Poederbaas. And this is where I feel I need to give you a bit more information. See, Poederbaas (literally translated powder boss) is from the Netherlands and is quite big in the snowsports industry. It all started in the summer of 2009 when Stenmar IJff, the founder of Poederbaas, started a medical rehabilitation process after a serious traffic accident. As pastime he started knitting some beanies which he gave the name Poederbaas, because he loves skiing. This turned out to be a success and by the end of 2010 he founded the business officially. What started out as an hobby is now an internationally known brand with a solid Freeride Team, a Freeride Festival in Austria, the first Dutch freeride documentary, and several other events. Now, it’s time to start exploring the Dutch surf industry. I talk to Stenmar about this and ask him about his ambitions for this event and surfing in general.
“I am quite new to surfing but I enjoy it and see strong similarities between the kind of people that surf and ski. Often, people even do both. We started working together this year with the Zandvoort Watersports Club (WVZ) to try and bring this event to a new level. Strong partnerships, plenty of side events, and a healthy field of competitors. So far, it seems like we have done just that, but I hope to keep developing this over the following years. That’s the same for surfing in the Netherlands in general. I don’t know yet where this will take us exactly. One thing that I do know, is that we value talent development. It would be a wonderful thing if we could help them grow and be a part of it.”
The dying seconds
So far my strategy works. I don’t know what my score is, but at least I have one on the board. The current is so strong that I hardly remain in the contest area. My fellow competitors are nowhere to be seen. At least they can’t score waves from outside the area. How much longer? I can’t really tell if the red flag is up yet, and it’s impossible to hear the horn from this distance and this bloody cap on. It’s the heart of winter but somehow I’m not as cold as usual. Then again, I normally don’t paddle so much. In what feels like the dying seconds I manage to find another wave, but is shuts down in both directions. There goes my last chance to put a solid score on the board.
I get out of the water hundreds of meters down the line due to the current on the way in. As I walk back, I have some time to reflect. I am proud that I stuck to my strategy. No real second wave, but not much you can do about that. I find it very difficult that I haven’t got any idea what the others have done, or if the judges even saw my first (and best) wave. Were the other surfer awarded with scores outside of the contest area? Ton of questions cross my mind. My friends are pretty positive that I made it, because apart from the surfer in red and myself nobody else caught a wave. I am not so sure though, and my insecurity grows. I start to get a new insight in competitive surfing.
No chance to rip
The results are in. Third in my heat. Damn! I lost, and I am really disappointed. Almost upset. This surprises me. I was in it for the fun right? I can keep telling myself this, but that’s a lie. As soon as I entered the water, I wanted to win. Not the contest because I’m nowhere good enough, but I wanted to win my heat, or at least get through to the next round. To make things even worse, I end up with the lowest heat score of round one. Okay, there were a few surfers that didn’t get a score at all, but still. I lost, and it hurts. I try and shrug it off, and say that I can at least go and free surf now because the waves are starting to get really good.
Pascal van der Mast is one of the best surfers of the Netherlands. He asks me how it went and I tell him. “How did that happen? That’s not what I’m used to, you ripper”, he says. Well there was nothing to rip out there I reply. “Haha that’s what I say when I loose”. He’s right. But still my thoughts keep running wild. I want to ask the judges if they saw both of my waves, and if they scored other surfers outside of the area. Did anyone record my heat? How do professional surfers do this? Are they for real when they do their post heat interviews? I lost one heat in a fun event, not the crucial one in the world title, and I seem to be more upset than they are. Is everything really that scripted on tour?
Tom Boelsma Tom Boelsma Tom Boelsma
After my fulfilling free surf I turn back to the contest area. I have put things into perspective and feel good again. For real this time. From there on out it’s all about enjoying the beautiful weather and one surfer in particular, Tom Boelsma. Tom was fourth during the last Dutch national championship. He dominates in every heat. Swooping cutbacks, floaters, aerial attempts and powerful man turns. Keep in mind it’s the Netherlands so don’t expect J-Bay scenes but still I am impressed. Tom ends up winning the contest. As we eat our typically Dutch included evening meals he accepts his prize along with the groms and the women.
It is dark by now and as I look out over the ocean I look back on of my most fun surf days ever. Not because of the surf itself, I’ve seen better. I’ve also been to bigger contests but competing in a contest yourself even beats triple A VIP status at the Peniche Rip Curl Pro. I am Dutch and this Poederbaas contest felt like home. The winter cold, typical Dutch food, great winter weather, and an unique atmosphere. Above all, I got a new perspective into competitive surfing. I can’t call myself a competitive surfer by any means, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget. My new found insights will certainly make me look differently to this year’s world tour and especially the post heat interviews. Who’s honest and who’s full of crap?