'The journey' is a line at Moonflower tribe where we hold space for lovely people with stories. Stories to connect because you recognize a yourself or to get inspired because the story is so mighty. Today we feature Tomas Grootveld, a creative adventurous soul who's work and story will give you the chills. Enjoy!
' The ocean has made me into a better man and I am forever grateful for that. '
My mom always tells me this story. I must have been about 1 year old and she pushed the stroller up the dune. When we reached the top and I had my first glimpse of the sea I went: ‘’Ohhh’’.
Of course, I don’t have an active memory of that event but it’s a funny moment in my life, looking back 33 years later.
Our family weekend activities usually included going to the beach. Often the more quiet ones at Parnassia or Langevelderslag. I enjoyed the beach and the sea for sure, but my connection to the sea was pretty superficial if I’m honest. I don’t recall feeling a special love for the salty water.
Later on in life, I got to experience the power of the sea on a family holiday in southwestern France. My parents got me a bodyboard and I rode it until my belly was all rashed up and I couldn’t deal with the pain from the salt water anymore. With hindsight I think that experience of using the energy of the waves planted a seed.
At around sixteen years old, I got my first surfboard. Me and a friend saw some videos on Youtube about surfing and we had to try it for ourselves. We both got an NSP 6’’4 fish and I got a 5/3 O’neill backzip wetsuit. It didn’t occur to us that a surf lesson might have been helpful and honestly I don’t think there were many surfschool back then in the Netherlands. We struggled for months trying to do a proper pop-up, mainly because the board was too small, but somehow the sea got a hold of me.
Even winter couldn’t stop us and we got ourselves hoodies, gloves and booties to surf the cold waters. I enjoyed being looked at on the beach when it was snowing. I enjoyed the grey North Sea water and its choppy waves. It started to feel like a place to empty my head, feel free from the craziness or urban life and recharge.
Surfing became the common thread in my life. I started making surftrips to Morocco, France and Spain. Surfing those places was exciting and scary as the waves packed more punch than my familiar North Sea.
Surfing started to shape my life. I made new friends and it felt like I had found my tribe. But at the same time I felt out of place in a busy line-up in the Atlantic. Was my level good enough? What if a freak set came through? I needed to be prepared. I needed to gain confidence.
A weekend trip to Vlieland kick started the next ten years of my life. The island with its empty beaches and sometimes punchy waves offered me the playground to take my confidence in the water to the next level. I started working for a surfschool and spend days on end in the North Sea. I learned about the currents, the wave direction, wave height, wave period and the wind directions. I started exploring the island and surfed big waves with only a friend or two in the water. I got humbled by wipeouts and the beauty of a windless sunset surf. The North Sea shaped me into the man I am today.
I spend my winters in places like France, Portugal, Spain, the Azores, the Canaries and Hawaii. All my hours spend in the sea gave me the confidence to deal with big waves, but also taught me when to be humble and skip a session if the waves were too big. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone and when I have an off day and my gut feeling tells me to stay out of the water, I obey.
There have been numerous occasion on which I’ve felt out of place and it’s okey to feel that too sometimes. I recall a session in Ericeira (PT) on a reef with pretty heavy waves. I was nervous paddling out but I was with a couple of friends, so I wanted to give it a try. I took off on a wave and fell right when I tried to set up the bottom turn. Basically the worst place to wipeout. The wave landed on top of me and dragged me down. I remember thinking: oof that’s powerful. Apparently I was pretty deep down and the wave didn’t let go of me yet so I started panicking. It must have been ten seconds at the max but it felt like an eternity. I started swimming and when I resurfaced I grasped for air. I was rattled and it took a few minutes to catch my breath and get my heart rate down. The exit was sketchy too and I decided to paddle to the next beach. I didn’t surf for a few weeks after that experience. The ocean had humbled me. Scared me. Shown me my limits. And those are lessons I take home. You can get rattled sometimes in life, but it will prepare you for future situations.
When my dad fell ill four years ago, the ocean was the place I looked for consolation. When he passed away three years ago the ocean was the place where I honored him and spread some of his ashes. When I surf nowadays, I see him in all the little things. The waves, the sky, a seal. It’s like the ocean is the only place that truly understands my grief. In that sense, the ocean is all I need.
Nowadays I also share my passion for the ocean through photography. I swim around in the line-up, taking photo’s of waves and surfers. It gives me joy to share those photo’s with others, creating memories not just for myself. Through ocean photography I hope to inspire people to get out there and get humbled by nature, so we can make this world a better place for generations to come.
The ocean has made me into a better man and I am forever grateful for that.
Words and photo's by Tomas Grootveld