sports

Visited Biarritz in September 2021

I used to go surfing at Scheveningen frequently, several days in a month or so. I stopped doing that after our first and second daughter were born, because I didn’t have enough time anymore. Another reason was that Hart Beach, my surf school there, stopped offering the lessons which they planned ad hoc on the day of the week with the best surfing conditions. Instead, they would just offer lessons on a fixed day and time, resorting to skateboarding if surfing conditions were bad. I didn’t like this and stopped with their lessons completely. Efforts to go surfing on my own were further complicated by scarce days with good surfing conditions and my inability to seize the days which did offer good conditions.

I still love surfing though. I was looking forward to go on a surfing holiday to France, Portugal or Spain again, where the waves are typically much better than in Scheveningen. In September 2017 we visited Peniche in Portugal and had good waves. In May 2019 we visited Capbreton in France, which was supposed to have good waves as well. The World Surf League (WSL) organizes world championships in nearby Hossegor after all. Instead we got rather mediocre waves in May. I felt we arrived at the wrong time of the year and it would have been better to go in September or October (during which time the WSL actually organizes their events there).

I asked Stephanie whether she was okay with me going on a surfing trip for six days in September, since she doesn’t like surfing herself. She didn’t like the idea of being alone with our children for so long, but she was so kind to let me go. I’m not sure if this is normal for young parents, but I do know that it was never a problem for my own parents. My mother took care of us while my dad usually went on a winter sports holiday with his friends for a week, every year. Vice versa, he took care of us when my mother went on holiday with friends.

Because the Spanish state railways (Renfe) stopped offering the sleeper train from Irun to Lisbon due to COVID19 my options were more limited this time. I insist on not using aircraft and didn’t want to spend more than two days on the outgoing and return journeys. I decided that I’d go to France again, Biarritz this time. Biarritz is a nicer place to stay than Capbreton or Hossegor because it’s a bigger city with more character than the those two smaller villages.

Before I decided to go in September, I consulted Magic Seaweed for statistics. In September, the Côte des Basques beach on the southern edge of Biarritz is supposed to have 60% of days with surfable waves. Maybe not as good as the 82% for the Cantinho da Baia beach just north of Peniche, but certainly better than the 9% for Scheveningen.

When I arrived at Biarritz I paid for an intensive surf training (two lessons of ninety minutes every day) with the Jo Moraiz Surf School. This was for all four days I stayed in Biarritz. This school, like several others, gives their surf lessons on the northern end of Côte des Basques, where it’s sheltered by a headland extending into the sea and the waves are supposedly better. Even in September (which is not as busy as the summer months) this spot is very busy, with many surf schools concentrating there. I often had to abandon an attempt to grab a wave because there were others in front of me or because I risked ‘dropping in’ on others who had priority for that wave.

This beach is also very limited by the tides, because it disappears at high tide. At high tide you shouldn’t surf there because there is a risk of colliding with the rocks on the shoreline. Due to this limitation the second ninety minute lesson followed directly after the first, without a break, on three days. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but it’s harder to grab waves if you’re too tired to paddle after the first lesson.

What was most important to me was the quality of the waves. Unfortunately these turned out to be rather mediocre. Most of the waves I saw were closeout waves which broke quickly, all at once from end to end. These are not suitable for surfing. In the worst case, these gave me a nasty wipeout, getting dropped from my surfboard and then being submerged and somersaulted by the wave. In the best case I got a boring straight ride to the beach without any opportunity to maneuver on the wave.

Surfable waves are left handers, right handers or a-frames, which break respectively to the left, right or both the left and right from the perspective of the person surfing them. I saw very little of these and noticed that everyone else was struggling as well, it was difficult to ride a good wave. On one day the waves were tall, up to two meters, on another day one meter, but they seemed to behave the same in closing out. On the last day the sea was mostly too flat and messy to catch a rideable wave.

To my disappointment I didn’t get any wave which was better than the one I once got on a stormy day in the autumn at Scheveningen. I managed to catch a nice left hander there relatively far from the beach and was able to ride it for at least five seconds. In that moment, time seemed to stop for me, as I apparently entered a state of flow. I was riding that wave as if I was Poseidon himself, even though that wave was tame by the standards of much better surfing spots. I had hoped to have more experiences like that in Biarritz, but this didn’t happen.

I asked myself, where are those easy waves which are suitable for longboarders, which are slow too break and allow for a very long ride on the wave? The kind of wave you see in this video of Batu Bolong on Bali? After some more searching I found that the 2018 Longboard Pro, organized by the WSL, was held on Côte des Basques from 7 to 10 June in 2018. June, one of the months with the lowest chances of good waves if we are to believe the statistics on Magic Seaweed. But on the highlight video for that event I see some fine waves. I had expected better waves for September, but I guess good waves depend a lot on luck. I see the WSL reserves eight days or more for many of their events, just so they can select the day with the best surfing conditions for their championships. Obviously my four days weren’t enough and I had some bad luck.

I feel that I wasn’t able to improve my skills significantly due to the mediocre surfing conditions in Biarritz. What didn’t help either was that my surf school didn’t match my expectations. The instructors and others from the Jo Moraiz Surf School were nice people, but they didn’t put enough effort in knowing their customers. The instructor I started with on the first day adapted his teaching well to my experience, but when I had two lessons with different instructors I had to explain my level of experience to them again. This could have been avoided with a proper intake and briefing of the instructors. Everyone could speak English, but in some cases there still was some language barrier.

During two lessons there even was no instructor for the group in the green (unbroken) waves where I was, just one for the group with the beginners in the white (already broken) waves. In fact I didn’t get the lessons I paid for at that time, I would have been better off just hiring a wetsuit and surfboard.

Even more problematic was that they didn’t teach anything about surf etiquette and paddling technique. For the latter, it’s as if you’re not telling a child that they should maintain speed to avoid falling when they’re learning to ride a bike. As Kale Brock and Rob Case tell us on YouTube, paddling is an essential skill and doing it efficiently makes a big difference. Most of a surfing session consists of paddling after all.

In their defense, this surf school had a lot of people who got there for one or two incidental lessons, not an entire intensive program of four or five days. I understand that you can’t spend as much time on surf etiquette and paddling technique then, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. If it can be explained in a YouTube video in a few minutes, you surely could cover the subjects for five or ten minutes during your lesson.

While it wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t recommend the Jo Moraiz Surf School. I’m not sure how the other surf schools in Biarritz compare with them, but compared to the instructors at Hart Beach in Scheveningen or my surf camp in Peniche it wasn’t good enough. In that surf camp the instructors tracked the progress of their customers. There was video analysis and adequate theoretical explanation of surfing, even though they didn’t spend much attention to paddling either. Next time I’ll ask more critical questions to a surf school about their curriculum to determine whether they’re worth it. Or maybe I’ll go to a surf camp or just hire a wetsuit and board. I intend to go surfing at Scheveningen more often again so I don’t start my surf holidays out of shape.

This post became rather long, but I want to end it on a positive note. Even though it was not what I expected and I was disappointed, I still enjoyed it. For me, being in the water is always enjoyable to some degree. The best part of this surfing holiday was my company, my father. He didn’t join me for surfing, but to ride his bike around Biarritz. It was very nice to spend so much time with him again. This holiday left me wanting for another surf holiday next year. I want to be able to nose ride a longboard and transition from a longboard to a shortboard. Maybe even get barreled if my luck and skills allow it.

Completed the Rotterdam Marathon of 2015

In 4 hours and 48 minutes, on Sunday 12 April. On one hand I’m satisfied that I’ve managed to attain this achievement, certainly after an injury prevented me from participating in 2014. On the other hand I’m disappointed with my time.

Because I was not unemployed or partially employed during the first months in 2015, I had to practice in the evening. Because it can be hard to see where you place your feet in the darkness I didn’t run on my bare feet like in 2014. After a few weeks of practice I decided to run barefoot during daylight on a Saturday. This turned out to be a bad decision because my feet were covered with blisters after 20 kilometers. Without practice my feet had become unaccustomed to barefoot running, obviously. When my feet had recovered, I decided to compromise: I would run the marathon on Xeroshoes Amuri Z-Trek minimalist sandals.

I had also tried the Amuri Cloud model during practice. A 20 kilometer run went fine, but I felt the strap connecting to the sole between the big toe and long toe was uncomfortable because it could cause to much friction if the straps were adjusted poorly. Adjusting the straps also required too much stops during the start of the run. The Amuri Z-Trek model turned out to be easier to adjust and served me well when I ran shorter distances with them, like 10 kilometers.

However, during the marathon itself it became clear that the strap of the Amuri Z-Trek sandals located just above the toes was causing too much friction as well. No amount of sports tape could prevent it, as that was pulled loose by the friction too. After approximately thirty kilometers I had to go to a first aid station to fix the bleeding.

Of course I’m very disappointed with XeroShoes. After some communication with the retailer the conclusion was that a smaller size would have helped, even though I had measured my size correctly. I don’t want to use sweaty shoes and insist on using minimalist sandals, but Xeroshoes is hard. Maybe I’ll try a smaller size of the Z-Trek model in the future, but since I completed the Rotterdam Marathon I can count my runs on one hand. And for those runs I used shoes. Because the Xeroshoes failed me I’ve been so demotivated that I almost gave up running completely.

As for the marathon itself, I ran the first 30 kilometers in 2 hours and 52 minutes. After that it went downhill. My ego had a hard time seeing much older men and short women overtaking me. I think I was more fit in 2014 as I had gotten more practice then. For 2015 I was naive to follow a schedule which advocated that shorter practice runs (less than 30 kilometers) could prepare the complete marathon. On top of that I didn’t follow it accurately.

Maybe I will run another marathon in the future to achieve a better time. Coincidentally the 2016 Rotterdam Marathon takes place today, but I’m volunteering as a traffic controller. I want to return the favor to the volunteers who handed me water and patched up my feet. To the English speaking participant (number 16069) who encouraged me when my spirits were low after the 30 kilometer point. To the public which cheered the runners to push on. The marathon makes us experience an amazing sense of community in Rotterdam, an experience which I want to contribute too.

First New Year’s dive ever

On 1 January this year I participated in a New Year’s dive for the first time ever. I had already been inspired in 2012 to do this. Ideally I wanted to go to the beach of Scheveningen near The Hague, where the largest event was organized for 10.000 people. Because I live in Rotterdam, I decided to go to a local event organized at the Kralingse Plas, a large lake north of Rotterdam’s center.

In total there were probably thirty people who got in the water and an equal amount of people who preferred to stay warm. It was well organized by the local ice skating club, they even had a diver in the water for safety. It should be noted that according to the science, the activity is not a problem for the average healthy person. However, people with heart or respiratory diseases might not take well to it. Apart from risks, science says it can actually make you feel better if you swim in such cold water regularly.

My experience was positive. When the signal was given after a countdown, the whole group ran into the water. Surprisingly, the water did not feel much colder than when I swam in a different lake during a much warmer day in the autumn. While others just waded through the water and quickly got out, I took the opportunity to swim for a minute or so. When I got out, I felt a very comforting rush of warmth through my body to compensate for the shock of the cold water. I’m not sure what the water temperature in the Kralingse Plas was, but the seawater at Schevening was 7 ℃. Because it’s a lake I expected the temperature was slightly lower.

I liked doing this and will do it again next year. If we have found a home in The Hague then, I can actually join the fun at the beach of Scheveningen. Ideally I’d like to do it more regularly than just New Year’s Day, which would be an option if I’d live closer to a beach or lake.

First marathon attempt failed

I haven’t been blogging for far too long, so to catch up I have a lot to write. Let’s start with my plan to run the marathon of Rotterdam in 2014.

In January or February this year I decided on running the marathon held annually in my city. I still didn’t like running much, but I decided it was something I should do at least once in my life, just because I want to have the experience. Financial considerations were an important factor in this. I couldn’t afford to pay the fee for kickboxing lessons, which I used to do frequently when I still lived with my parents last year. After visiting one kickboxing school in my neighborhood, I didn’t like the atmosphere there, it wasn’t as good as my previous school.

Running, on the other hand, didn’t cost me anything. I don’t like running shoes and my shoes in general deteriorate quickly due to friction at my heels, so by running barefoot I could avoid having to buy expensive new running shoes.

Sounds dangerous, running barefoot in Rotterdam? Others have told me they think its risky because I might step on broken glass, but actually the streets are surprisingly clean. I’ve traveled several hundred kilometers through Rotterdam on my bare feet this year, but I’ve never injured them even once. And even if there were broken glass, if you keep your eyes open it should be easy to avoid. I’m more worried about stepping on dog feces.

Unfortunately, some of the asphalt in certain areas is old or badly maintained. This means it’s rather coarse and very uncomfortable to walk on. My greatest annoyances are the bicycle path north of Rotterdam The Hague Airport, the bicycle path west of the Erasmus University Woudestein campus and basically all the asphalt in the Kralingse Bos. So I decided to get myself some minimalist sandals to use for traversing these spots.

Apart from more comfort on lower quality asphalt, I have other reasons to use minimalist sandals. They can be a lot cheaper than shoes. They also last much longer because they aren’t affected by wear and tear as much. In wet weather, the skin under the feet gets softer from the water, which slightly increases the chance of injury. Similarly, if I want to run late during the day when it’s already dark, it’s hard to see where you are placing your feet, also increasing chances of injury. Even so, I still intended to run the marathon itself on my bare feet.

I bought the XeroShoes Connect 4mm sole from a Dutch dealer, Barefoot Schoenen. I paid something like € 30 for them and they come with a warranty for 8000 kilometers. This sandal is just a sole with separate laces and a hole punch, which you have to assemble yourself. This was were the problems started for me. Even though I tried to measure precisely, it was difficult to punch the hole at the exact right spot. Tying the laces was horribly tedious.

During my first run with the sandals they made a lot of noise because it was hard to get laces tied tightly. Because the hole in the left sandal wasn’t punched at the right spot, the left sandal didn’t fit well and gave a blister. The next time I ran barefoot again, causing the blister to move upwards from the bottom of my feet. I had never gotten any injury or blister when I ran barefoot during the weeks before I got the sandals.

Marathon practice blister
After that first run I never used these sandals again. I guess these do-it-yourself sandals might work for some people, but not for me. I continued training for the marathon on my bare feet and eventually succeeded in running 30 kilometers in three hours. At this time I had a part-time job for two days, so I would usually practice two or three times a week. While I used to get bored with running for a few kilometers, running ten or more kilometers was strangely satisfying. Maybe this was the runner’s high?

Unfortunately, my effort ended in a huge anti-climax. A week or so before the marathon would start at 12 April, I increasingly started to feel pain in my knees. During my final practice run a few days before the marathon, it was so painful that I could not run more than 5 kilometers. I suspect it was runner’s knee, caused by my desire to prepare for the marathon in just two months. I was very disappointed I couldn’t participate in the marathon anymore. After some days of rest the knee pain was gone.

I’ve already paid the entrance fee for Rotterdam’s marathon in 2015. This time I’ll start training earlier, at the start of January, so that I get at least three months to prepare, even though some think this will still be too short. I’ll make sure to buy read to wear sandals this time, probably the XeroShoes Sensori or Amuri models.