Written by Luke Summers (Editor of the Adventure Medic) & edited by Arvid Schigt (EASD Board Member).
How are you? How are the waves?
I’ve been out of the water for three months because I had ear surgery for my surfer’s ear, but I have been back in the water already for the last ten days. It has been fun, there has been lots of north swells coming in. With lots of things going on today though I’m not going into the water, it’s actually freezing and there is fresh snow on the beach, so I’ll just stay dry today.
How long have you been surfing and what got you into surfing?
My dad has got me into surfing as he was one of the first surfers in Holland, with a handful of guys who started surfing the north sea. They came in touch with surfing on their school holidays down in Biarritz, France, and saw some Australian guys surfing that coast – the Southwest. And when they got home they saw that you could surf here in The Hague. They started to keep an eye on it and started making their own boards and went in in scuba suits. This is going back almost 40 years ago now. He was very early. Also European wise he was definitely one the first. He would travel around Europe visiting all the different spots like Spain, Portugal and France. After a couple of years he got into it so much and developed a passion, so when I was born we would go on surfing holidays. My mother wouldn’t surf, but she would climb, so we would go to the Southwest of France and surf and then head into the Pyrenees to go on canyoning tours. Certainly not the normal course of life for someone coming from Holland.
I guess this explains to some part why you’re doing so well in competition these days.
There have been other pros before from Holland but I don’t think anyone has been on the level and course I am now with the surfing career.
So how is life as a professional surfer?
It’s definitely weird, and it’s not like it is in the US where if you are a sports person or athlete they worship you already. Here we’re a bit different, it’s not normal – we should find a proper job. My parents are very supportive but my whole environment never says – “ok you can do this, this is possible, you can grow into your surfing.” There is a close group of us who are supportive but all the way through school I always thought I needed to go to university and study and do something like economics, but looking back I’m really happy I didn’t do that. That was kind of a hard choice for me though, living in Holland and coming from my environment I had a feeling I had to do that, I had a sort of feeling I was conditioned in that way I guess. So when I went to study though, I decided that actually I want to give surfing a shot, and since that choice I’ve just been growing into a surfing career more and more and it’s been opening up a lot of things for me. This conditioning is funny though because in my mind it was not possible and for me that gap was pretty big.
When did you turn pro?
First I was just semi pro through 17,18,19 then I turned pro 19/20. Now I’m 25.
What are the best bits about being pro?
The traveling is definitely amazing, I have seen some really special places in Indonesia, Mexico, all over. In Indonesia I went to the Tenau islands, the Mentawis and Java, Lombok and Bali – obviously, it was very special. I also like competing, but like I said before I didn’t come from an environment where becoming a pro surfer was normal. Like in France or Spain or Portugal it was a lot more normal to be a pro surfer. There are lots of surfers and there is actually a way to become a pro surfer, because of the competitions and things like that. I didn’t have as much experience at competing, I had some, but at a very different level. So it was big transition and a big challenge going to international level, the world qualifying series (WQS). It was very interesting and enjoyable too.
What has been your competition highlight?
I came fifth in the WQS event in Portugal and I beat some of the bigger names in European surfing and then last year in the Vendee, France, I reached the quarter finals of one of the biggest events in the series, again beating some of the best European surfers. That for me was pretty big accomplishment.
Any other highlights?
Other than that I have been focusing a lot on my video project with my sponsor Protest. Me and a friend set up the latest North Sea video and Protest sponsored it. That is something I enjoy the most, traveling to unique places – we flew to Edinburgh and then up to the North to *secret locations*, it was great. I loved it – it was so remote and quiet and you get the waves to yourself and the waves themselves are amazing. We surfed Northeast England as well on some beautiful reefs. It’s amazing that I have only surfed this [Dutch] side of the North Sea and then that side is so close and the waves are so much better over there – some world class reefs and much more powerful swells. The main thing about Holland is that the sea bed is so shallow so the waves lose a lot of their power. You don’t have that problem over there.
How did you get involved with the EASD?
I met Arvid’s brother [Kjeld] in Costa Rica who has a surf resort there. He noticed I was getting some exposure in the Dutch media and he wanted to promote his surf resort, which is going really well now. So I had a photo shoot in Costa Rica and I went for a couple of days when he was setting up the resort and we stayed together and had a lot of fun and kept in touch. Then Arvid was involved in setting up the EASD and he approached me. We had a beer, we clicked, had a good conversation and that’s pretty much the way it went. I really liked what they were doing and how they were doing it. That was an easy decision to become an ambassador – I get a lot from the sport and would like to give something back in whatever way that can be.
What is it about EASD that you liked most that you’ve seen so far?
I like their model. I think the professionalism they show is great and the organization they have is pretty unique in the surfing world. But other than that I think they are setting up some really cool things now and think that they could contribute massively to the sport – to surfing injuries but also remote locations and the people at those remote locations. Also, one of the EASD members [Frederique Elffers Tan, ENT specialist] helped me out with my surfer’s ear operation. Through a friend of mine who is a physiotherapist at an institute down here which is like a whole health institute – called “Healthy at sea”, actually that sounds better in Dutch [“Gezond aan zee”] – but anyway she gave me a contact and I made the call. There weren’t any doctors who had experience in operating on surfer’s ear in Holland, but she was a surfer and was connected to the EASD and she hooked me up with one of the best ear surgeons in Holland. I was still in doubt as to whether I should have the operation but I talked to him and four days later I was on the operating table getting it sorted.
Were you getting a lot of problems from your surfer’s ear?
Because I have been surfing from such a young age in such cold water it just developed. I don’t know how fast, but the knowledge about it is still not that much in terms of how or how fast it grows. They know some of it but there is still a lot to be unraveled. It didn’t affect me that much initially, but three years ago I had a massive infection when I was down in France in Hossegor when I was there for some obligations to my sponsor Nike at the time. All of a sudden I got an infection in my ear that got worse and worse. I also had a cold at that time and they go worse together. I just kept on surfing and doing my thing until I couldn’t hear anything with my right ear. When I was sleeping in bed one night all this green stuff started coming out of my ear, which was all swollen and my face was swollen and I knew that something was wrong. I went to the doctor and he couldn’t see anything because of this massive infection. I always knew I had it but didn’t realize it could get that bad. I knew I wanted to get home so I drove all the way on my own – about a 10-11 hour drive with a fever, I could barely see straight. When I got home I went to the hospital and they didn’t know what was going on with all the bone growth in my ear and they had trouble removing the infection, which took about a month and a half to get rid of. I knew then there was a big trouble with my ear. Both ears in fact, but I have only had the right side operated on so far. The left side will have to be done too, but I will wait till I get problems with that one first. The doctor that saw me at the time of the infection in France, I didn’t have a very good feeling about. I had done a lot of research myself and I knew it was a specific thing, surfer’s ear. He said he had heard about it and he had a few patients but I didn’t trust him. I had the feeling that he saw me as just a project so I decided to look for someone else.
Have you had any big injuries from surfing?
Actually I’ve been kind of lucky *knocks on wood* and I try to keep it that way. Other than the surfer’s ear I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had some foot injuries from skateboarding and snowboarding but other than that it’s going pretty well. There are definitely more and more injuries these days in surfing though, as people surf bigger, and bigger waves on shallow reefs especially. Also the technical maneuvers in surfing are progressing each day and they bring more risk as people get air, rotate and then land on the flat parts of the waves. You certainly see more injuries today than you did 10 years ago.
What does Surfing Medicine mean to you?
I think it could contribute to surfing injuries that happen a lot. I also think it will help surfers that travel to remote locations, tropical locations, cold water locations, etc. Improving prevention of certain injuries or the treatment of surfers with tropical diseases will also be a big thing I think.
What are your plans next?
I’m looking to start a new video project with the guys I did ‘Stories From Here to There’ with. I’m looking at the possibilities of several destinations – cold water and tropical destinations. My people want to get colder, maybe Norway and Iceland, back to Scotland but also some tropical stuff too I hope. Other than that it will be sponsorship obligations like photo shoots and things like that. I’m also starting some new sponsorships which may involve some product development. The next competition is not until August – the WQS event in Europe. I only do the European leg and the first event will be the relentless board masters in Newquay. I’ll also be going to the conference in October in Portugal. Other than that I’m not sure what other plans are in the pipeline with the EASD, but I’m meeting soon with Arvid to arrange some more things. I’m looking forward to seeing where the EASD is going. Other than just being an organization they could really do a lot of stuff that could make a difference and I’m really looking forward to being a part of it.
What do you think the biggest difference is that the EASD could make and what they could focus on in the future?
In a lot of areas I guess, like prevention medicine and the treatment of injuries and things. But I think for me the most interesting part would be to give something back to surfing. We could use surfing as a tool to treat patients that already have problems, like disabled people to help them get in to the water when they otherwise couldn’t, that would be a cool thing to do – what surfing could actually mean for people with disease or injuries, people could really benefit from that. Also helping the local people in remote locations, that would be a good way to give something back.