Rider & Words: Sil Romeijn
Photos: Benny Jansen BENNY JANSEN
Location: Wijk Aan Zee, Netherlands 
Date: Wednesday September 20th, 2023 WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 20TH, 2023

As an autumn storm passed overhead, Sil Romeijn sensed opportunity where others would see a good reason to stay home and, perhaps, read Foiling Magazine with their feet up. It was a smart, if brave, move.

Leading up to this North Sea session at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday looked promising for epic conditions, with the synoptic chart showing purple. I knew Mistral wanted a shoot during October to replenish the image bank, but with this weather system coming in, it made sense to take advantage of it.

Mistral notified photographer Benny Jansen, but he had to be at the Red Bull Megaloop Challenge kitesurfing event in Zandvoort that Tuesday, which was finally going ahead after a four-year lapse due to poor conditions. I went and watched the event and texted Benny to see if he could shoot the following day, as the swell and wind would still be hanging around. He jumped at it, and we decided to hook up early in the morning at the pier at Wijk aan Zee.

There was a slight problem: I realised I could not get there. My girlfriend had the car. I texted my buddy Chucho Nonnot, but he didn't get back to me, so I prepared my push bike and trailer. Planning ahead, I prepared the Mistral/SAB 83cm mast, 65cm fuselage, 399 stab and a 702cm front wing. I sat up that night and wet and dry sanded the front foil with 800 grit as it was super glossy, and with some sanding, I knew it would become more ‘grippy’. The process helped me adjust my head to what was coming the next day; as a boat builder, I appreciate the need to take care of my kit, giving it my energy through pre-flight preparations. I would use the ‘Hookipa' Skywave 4.2m wing and my Mistral prototype foil board, which I designed and had shaped by Bram Hoogendijk.

I got up at 6:30am in the dark, walked my dog, put him back to bed, jumped on the pushy and started riding, hoping nothing would go wrong. It took around an hour, not ideal, but a great warm-up. Benny arrived and noted the grey skies; I hadn't even considered it; all I was thinking about was getting out there as I pedaled my bike, imagining how good the sets would be. The wind was blowing hard. Looking out over the beach, the brown and grey hue of the North Sea was flecked with white wind scars as big, thick sets rolled in, smashing high into the air off Wijk aan Zee pier.

We discussed ways to approach the shoot. Benny asked what shots we needed, “Good ones!” I'm thinking to myself. I thought of a wave exploding into the pier and me somewhere in the frame, but it was too dangerous to pull off. It was a wave-riding day, not a freestyle day; I wanted to drop into some of the bigger, thicker sets. The water conditions were extreme, and Benny opted not to go into the water, as it looked gnarly and bleak. Instead, he walked along the 500m Wijk aan Zee pier and set up with his long lens, and I would wing out into deep water.

The currents, rips and surface turbulence were intense, whipped up from the storm, the swells rolling across the horizon in endless succession. I remember a conversation with my girlfriend questioning whether I felt vulnerable or anxious in such conditions. I told her, ‘I never feel more alive' in being at one with the elements.

I had to wing way out of the surfing area toward the shipping lane, which was not so cool, but in my mind, I thought it would make for a great shot. You can see the water turbulence in the images. Benny shot off many images from the pier, and eventually, with more light, he decided to suit up and join me in the water.

I had to come closer to the beach; Chucho and a few others had turned up by now. Benny’s trying to photograph me, but they're also buzzing him and wanting their photos taken. He used some professional photographers’ sign language to tell them to keep away as it was my photoshoot, not theirs. The waves were closing out close to shore, and surfers were now in the water, making the situation sketchy in being in the right place for Benny at the right time. I thought the pier images would be best, but Benny thought the water shots would be better. Either way, we knew we had something worth sharing.

After two hours, he had to head off. I continued for another few hours, enjoying the freedom without working around Benny. I rode home later that day, totally satisfied. Arriving back to my boat where I live, my dog had gotten into the galley and managed to help himself to chocolate waffles, biscuits and cereals and made a real mess. I was too stoked to care.

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