Open Water Coaches Said To Be Among Five Dutch Surfers Who Died In Storm Swell & Sea Foam At Heart Of Inquiry

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14.5.20 Cruel Sea - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Five Dutch Surfers Who Died In Treacherous Seas Off The Hague Said To Include Two Open Water Coaches

Five Dutch surfers who drowned off the coast of the Dutch beach resort of Scheveningen, a district of The Hague, late on Monday, include two young Open Water coaches, according to Dutch reports into a tragedy that has now sparked an investigation into the role that sea foam might have played.

The surfers died after being caught in strong winds and foamy waters, local authorities have confirmed. In total, 10 people are thought to have been in the water at the time, a group of six, a group of three and one single surfer. Some observers referred to “an avalanche of sea foam” some 2m thick and swelling up against a harbour wall reinforced by vast offset cubes of concrete with jagged edges.

Now, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ) has launched an investigation into the possible role of a thick layer of sea foam in the deaths of the five Dutch surfers, none of whom have yet been named.

Three surfers were rescued and their testimony will be critical to understanding the conditions that led to the deaths of their fellow surfers. There is no confirmation, as yet, of reports that two open water coaches were among the dead in a nation that boasts the reigning men’s and women’s Olympic marathon champions, Ferry Weertman and Sharon van Rouwendal.

Scheveningen, a popular beach resort known for its annual New Year’s Day plunge and swim involving thousands flocking to take a dip in icy North Sea waters, is known as the best surfing spot for surfing in the Netherlands.

The fate of nine people, including the five Dutch surfers confirmed as having lost their lives, has been confirmed so far but other surfers may still be missing, the surf community told Dutch news outlets. The news agency Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau reported that the thick foam made it especially difficult for those who had fallen from their boards to get back to shore, regardless of whether they were strong and experienced swimmers and surfers.

One body was said by observers at the scene to have floated out to sea. Search missions were called off late last night.

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Scenes of rescue workers combing the beaches of Scheveningen – Photo Courtesy: RP Online (ragout)

The Dutch Coast Guard and The Hague authorities have asked surfers who may been there to come forward and help to identify surf and kite boards found abandoned on the beach, as part of the process of eliminating from inquiries those who were not officially accounted as survivors.

Experts have suggested that the surfers may have become disorientated in the foam, which was over two metres high, according to some eyewitnesses, as it approached the harbour wall. That wall and the swell may also have combined with the foam to create a barrier that the surfers could simply not get through, with fatal consequences.

Sea foam is formed when sea water has a high concentration of dissolved organic matter, derived from algal blooms, and is whipped up, cream-like, by strong winds. Those conditions can be dangerous for surfers and swimmers alike.

Researcher Katja Philippart told broadcaster NOS:

“There was a lot of foam and this may be due to the large quantity of algae. This might be due to the good weather of recent days, combined with the strong winds.”

Philippart said that she was unaware of any cases in which people had been suffocated by sea foam. The NIOZ investigation will now look at the role the foam did play, if any, in the deaths of the five Dutch surfers, three of whom were from The Hague and two from Delft.

The resulting research findings could be valuable to open water event organisers in further understanding of dangerous conditions to be aware of.

Johan Remkes, the Mayor of The Hague, told reporters at a press conference that a thorough investigation into what happened would now take place. He said:

“When a group of people went surfing early in the evening, no one expected that some would not come home. How can it be that people with so much experience and who knew this place so well came to die. “

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A community in mourning Photo Courtesy: The Holland Surfing Association

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Photo Courtesy: The three-fish flag of Scheveningen

Community friends and family of the dead have left flowers at the location where the five Dutch surfers died while Scheveningen residents mourned by sharing on social media pictures of five herrings on a dark background, a reference to the city’s flag, which has three fish.

The Holland Surfing Association issued a short statement in which it noted:

“These were very experienced surfers and swimmers, with a great love for the sea and their sport. They were caught up in extraordinary circumstances and lost their lives in such a tragic way.”

The deaths did not stop other water-sports enthusiasts seeking escape from lockdown from taking to nearby beaches and water, even as the but the Dutch Coast Guard‘s rescue operations were hampered by strong winds and rough sea. The coast guard service issued a statement urging people to stay away:

‘”There are still water sports enthusiasts active in the vicinity of our search area. We call on them to leave this area as soon as possible.”

Other European countries severely restricted outdoor activities during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Netherlands took a more relaxed approach, only asking people to stay at home as much as possible and to respect social distancing practices when outside. Many beaches are closed, but surfing has been allowed as long as surfers respect physical distancing guidelines, according to the Holland Surfing Association.

As of today, the Netherlands had reported nearly 43,211 confirmed coronavirus infections and 5,562 deaths. The Dutch authorities loosened lockdown measures this week, including a partial reopening of schools but lockdown measures and guidelines remain in place in many sectors as well as for citizens in general.