Five surfers killed, more missing, in the Netherlands

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Dispatch

At least five surfers have died while surfing the central Netherlands coast on Monday evening.

Under heavy swell and wind, a group of nine surfers paddled out near Scheveningen, a district of The Hague. The surfers got into trouble when thick beds of sea foam left them disoriented and made breathing difficult.

Rescuers from the Dutch Coast Guard were called at 6:45pm. Three people were rescued, two of whom were later pronounced dead, before the search was postponed at 10:45pm.

Resuming on Tuesday morning, a helicopter was engaged to clear thick foam along the coastline. Two further bodies were found and one more was seen floating out to sea. The Coast Guard ended its search in the early afternoon and said it had not found that last person, taking the toll to five.

Among the five victims, three are believed to be seasoned surfers who were "professional trainers in open water swimming", according to NOS, a Dutch public broadcaster.

Mayor Johan Remkes of The Hague expressed his condolences on Monday evening. "When a group of people went surfing early in the evening, no one expected that some would not come home," he said in a written statement. 

Dutch lifeguard service KNRM said of the incident, "The strong wind from a northern direction and strong sea current due to the spring tide made the joint search actions a tricky job."

Some surfers told the news agency Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau that the thick foam made it especially difficult.

Sea foam is often caused when freshwater is mixed with saltwater under stormy conditions, particularly when there's large rainfall and localised wind. Scheveningen lies on a flat section of coast with many freshwater estuaries, including the Rhine, one of the largest rivers in Europe, and the extensive Markemeer freshwater lake ot the north.

What causes sea foam? And why is it dangerous?


indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 7:46am

This is weird I'm having trouble understanding how this is possible, to make foam you need waves, if there is waves, why not catch waves in?

How do you suddenly get trapped in foam how does it suddenly appear everywhere that it's so high you can't breath?

And a whole group of surfers?

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 7:50am

I'm guessing sweep pushing them south towards the foam and rocks, get stuck in slippery foam trying to paddle out of it and it gets dark, get disorientated from backwash from wall and maybe just panic sets in and they get slammed into the break wall. Doesn't sound great at all.. Sad outcome and thoughts go to the families and friends.

Here's the location..

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:34am

Okay that's a decent explanation .

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:07am

Bizzare - Deceased were Experienced surfers Surf instructors and international Lifeguards.. ?

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:09am

The (toxic) foam makes you choke and you can't breath, I experienced that as a child and learnt then that's it not a good idea to go playing in the stuff. Hypothesizing: say they were in the water, getting washed around in a group, they got pushed into a large patch of foam -can't breath, can't see, waves pushing up against the breakwall, no escape = drown/die from asphyxiation.

LOF's picture
LOF's picture
LOF Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:13am

Coming from a place which often had similar conditions, it was pretty common sense that plenty of foam meant sitting the surf out or going to a different spot regardless of experience and swimming strength. The sea always wins that contest.

Elliedog's picture
Elliedog's picture
Elliedog Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:13am

How very sad... I’m like yourself indo... hard to comprehend. Hard for me to comprehend surfing in those conditions and hard to even comprehend surfing in the Netherlands.

wax-on-danielson's picture
wax-on-danielson's picture
wax-on-danielson Thursday, 14 May 2020 at 2:16pm

That’s what I learnt, you can surf in Holland?

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:13am

Which is pretty much what NL times said - Like an Avalanche

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:25am

What a tragedy.


bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:25am

faaaark that high price for a surf.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:26am

Experienced that kind of foam on the Gold Coast years ago after a hybrid low dumped up a couple of hundred mm of rain and whipped up huge seas. My understanding is that it was caused by street/stormwater run-off mixing in with large waves - either way it was toxic. A few mates went running through the foam for a laugh, and then became pretty ill in the days afterwards.

GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 11:12am

I was on the Gold Coast when a cyclone hit the coast and experienced the same foamy seas. Ruined the trip, flooding rain onshore winds and a wild foamy ocean.

jpful1's picture
jpful1's picture
jpful1 Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:34am

Very sad news. Scheveningen is a great little surfing community and would certainly be mourning this terrible loss of lives.

Terminal's picture
Terminal's picture
Terminal Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:40am

Really terrible news

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:42am

Sad to hear this. Have spent a little time there and attempted to surf their waves. They're a dedicated bunch considering it generally takes severe weather and storms to get the ocean in motion there, which explains why they would be out there. Thoughts to the family and friends over there of those affected.

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 8:43am

Terrible news. These guys looked super experienced and it's not something anyone prepares for. I've enjoyed a few sessions with Dutch surfers and they are great in the water. This must have rocked the entire dutch surfing community.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 10:00am

Bizarre but very sad.

Fatso's picture
Fatso's picture
Fatso Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 10:04am

They had to use a chopper to clear the foam for the search. Gives you an idea as to how deep it was so would be near impossible to get a sighting on where you might be, or to breathe. Would also be really fast moving in those sorts of conditions. Very sad for these guys, their families and the entire community.

views from the cockpit's picture
views from the cockpit's picture
views from the ... Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 10:06am

Like AA, having also experienced severe sea foam immersion being foolish as a teen, I can relate to the scariness of not being able to breathe and the darkness and disorientation. Would never do it again!
Know some guys from Delft who I surfed with there once and partied out there plenty!
Condolences to all.

rusty's picture
rusty's picture
rusty Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 10:12am

Such a tragedy.

Get that stuff in your lungs with no way to breathe anything else and you're in trouble.

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 10:45am

That's terrible. RIP.

My understanding of sea foam is that it's the colloidal and organic matter from soil from freshwater flows/flooding that causes the foam and it's not necessarily toxic - of course if you're in an urban area the run-off after big rain events is likely to have a whole lot of nasties anyway. We used to run through the foam on the beach as kids in the big storms of the 70s and early 80s without getting crook. But it was over 6ft deep in places and could smash you. There were a few kids shaken up by getting smothered and dis-oriented, including this one.

channel-bottom's picture
channel-bottom's picture
channel-bottom Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 11:25am

The issue with the foam is that it sits on top of the water, so lying on your board to paddle means you are below the top of the foam. Difficult to breathe without inhaling it, can't see where you are, can't see waves approaching, north wind at this spot pushing you towards the breakwall. Incredibly dangerous once you think about it

Walk around G's picture
Walk around G's picture
Walk around G Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 11:48am

Tragic, looks fun but is now obviously very dangerous.

Lachlan22's picture
Lachlan22's picture
Lachlan22 Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 12:04pm

It seems it needs organic matter to form:

"According to a 2011 paper by several Austrian scientists called "Foam in the Aquatic Environment," the answer is--somewhat unhelpfully--yes, and yes. In order for foam to form, you need air, water, and a key third ingredient called a "surfactant"--a kind of sticky molecule that clings to the surface between water and air. This surfactant ingredient can come from a lot of places; human-made sources include fertilizers, detergents, paper factories, leather tanneries, and sewage. But surfactants also come from the proteins and fats in algae, seaweed, and other marine plant life."

"Surface-active components causing foam include the degradation products of organic material (e.g. humicsubstances), lipids and proteins originating from aquatic plants or the terrestrial environment, and exudation ordecomposition products of phytoplankton. Manmade foam isoften the result of point source pollution (particularly fromindustry) or diffuse pollution originating mainly from agriculture"

Retrieved from:

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 12:56pm

Tragic. A fun time with mates can quickly come undone. I've heard multiple chargers talk about how foam as nearly ended them once before. I think it was Jim Banks that mentioned getting caught in seafoam after a big set at Ulus brought him closer to drowning than the hold downs. Something to be very wary.

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 2:41pm

Anyone wonder if all that missing pollution re-morphed as "excessive" Sea Foam?

tbb salutes brother basherz ...5 basherz dead {r.i.p} + 1 more basher missing.
Seasoned Surfers were said to be training
ILS / OZ lifeguard experience.
Surf instructors
Ocean Swim instructors

Other reports show unclaimed Boards & presume several are missing?

Eye witness Photographer:
"Six experienced watermen went swimming with suits and "FINS", but 3 of them couldn't fight the "Current" and got dragged under the Foam, they didn't make it out!"

tbb: "FINS"... In that thick foam...are as good as concrete boots
Others that Slipped off boards likely unleashed them when tombstoning.
Doesn't explain the lack of tea bags as to the 5 missing kite boards? (Mystery!)

Goes without saying, the less gear the better for soup surfing.
Seems as if the Surfers sitting high on boards were just above the foam layer.
Basherz see & tick that the surfers as fine...leap in fins'n'all & were suffocating in it.
Had troble getting out & the flippers would have made retreat equally exhausting.
Sounds like when they reached the turning point it was sadly not of their terms.

Note the thick foam likely funnelled or pinned the tide against the wall.
This would increase the rip as a river going out to sea. (A lot more than normal!)

The fins cemented them, suffocating in Foam patch, or be ripped out like a rag doll.
Pod of ill-equipped Watermen found themselves at the ocean's mercy. {RIP}
tbb is only speculating as...unusual story reveals more by the hour!

PS: tbb visited the northern stretch of this beach via the Zandvoort Train in 1987.
Then an iconic windsurfing culture > now it's end 2 end sea change beach clubs!

PeteWebb's picture
PeteWebb's picture
PeteWebb Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 3:14pm

Sea foam at Alex Hdld 7 years ago. Imagine trying to paddle through this? First clip its covering the beach and flowing right across the road. 2nd clip shows it from the surf club. We were there and it was crazy how deep it was and how much of it there was.

Ripradstan's picture
Ripradstan's picture
Ripradstan Thursday, 14 May 2020 at 12:57pm

I was there that day and saw this happen.

upnorth's picture
upnorth's picture
upnorth Wednesday, 13 May 2020 at 5:56pm

From MSW, seems like three bodysurfers got into trouble and pushed into 2m of foam, possible the others with boards went to help. Tragic whatever way you look at it.

Five surfers died in Holland last night at Scheveningen Beach, one of the country's surfing hubs.
Authorities are still attempting to figure out exactly what went wrong but a few witnesses have described the scene. It's understood that a heavy storm was raging off the coast and it ended up blowing towering mounds of foam along the harbour wall, which spread for hundreds of metres across the beach and beachbreak.
According to local witnesses, the foam also extended onto the white wash and from the shore, it's unlikely anyone would have been able to see how deep the foam was on the water's surface. “Six experienced watermen went swimming with suits and fins, but three of them couldn't fight the current and got dragged under the foam, they didn't make it out. And two experienced surfers didn't make it out either. Huge drama, the surf community is in total shock and disbelief,” one photographer told MSW this morning.
“The community is hurt, no one dares to go near the water with a board this morning, even though the swell is on,” he added.
Another local said: “It is terrible. It was a small group of really fit and healthy surfers they went to bodysurf and got in trouble by a surprise set. They got caught inside with a ton of foam on top of the whitewash, and a few other surfers.”

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola Thursday, 14 May 2020 at 8:13pm

i am still in shock i cant believe it happened

Remigogo's picture
Remigogo's picture
Remigogo Friday, 15 May 2020 at 7:00am

Very sad. Condolences to family and friends.

Judy Scrase's picture
Judy Scrase's picture
Judy Scrase Friday, 15 May 2020 at 11:35am

Our deepest condolences to the family, friends and community of these men.

Gazbomb's picture
Gazbomb's picture
Gazbomb Saturday, 16 May 2020 at 10:13am

If the foam is thick enough, then your head won't be above water. It will be in the foam, which I'm guessing is none too breathable.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Friday, 19 Mar 2021 at 1:31am

2021 review...(Forward) June Preliminary results are all to go by...however we can investigate further!

Nioz : "The algae phaeocystis globosa colonies are gathered by mucous like matrix that protects the cells and allows them to "rapidly" increase in size. The algae need sunlight and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate, and a "sunny" start to May helped the cells grow "rapidly". The sea foam off Scheveningen was found to be 4x the average peak seen in the past 10 years.

However, (cloudy weather) the "day before" the tragedy (triggered the disintegration) of the algae colony into an "unparalleled" quantity of individual cells. Viral infections caused the cells to 'burst open' and a 'Force -7 wind + strong seas' - Whipped them up into a large amount of Foam. The N/NE wind drove the Foam against the Harbour Head before the 'Currents Changed' and the Foam moved toward the Beach.

tbb: This is only part of the Wiki has a very telling list of Seafoam events that relate to here.
A wiki / Google Earth (Countless Images) seafoam safari unravels similarities & this was soon apparent.

1. Most beaches had North facing coves but not all, so this wasn't the be all!
Once tbb found other off track beaches there had to be more to the foam.
2. Despite most beaches having Alcoves others were straight! Again, bugger!
3. Many were near Rivers or Creeks...again not all...keep searching?
4. There it is! The one thing all Seafoam beaches had was interactive landform or built structure/s.

These structures can be in Built form ...Jetty / Breakwalls / Stilted Buildings slsc / Ocean pools .
Landforms included Hooks / alcoves / Sloped corners / natural Rock pools / Lagoons / Isthmus.

Typically the foam is caught & brews with the involved shoreline.
Think large multi holed Bubble blowing Wands that push out enormously strong foam structures.
A child with a tiny bottle of detergent can fill a sky with bubbles in a matter of seconds to a minute!
It seems unworldly & almost impossible that a simple implement at one site can envelope all around!
And just like a bubble wand it needs exactly the right mix / angle / pressure or it fails to act...(Magic!)
But when it all comes together..Boy Oh Boy! The show is on alright!

Further insight reveals a multitude of Sloped Walls / Pillars / Columns / Fence mesh + Shark Netting.
Natural lipped Rock pools / Rock ramparts / bommies - sandbanks- drop offs
One needs to carefully study each beach in calm clear mode to see how foam is agitated on each beach.
Yes! The brewing interaction at the very site is a main contributor, tbb can example such beyond doubt.

wiki never exactly pointed to such ...more so alluded to built / landforms so this is a concise sample.
wiki: "Depends on terrestrial environments where rough seas can break open yet more bubbles."
Crew can read that tbb is not contriving wiki ...but merely highlighting their words to best example their excellent list.

It's only fair to example it first as the Town may very well suspect the same.
Sounds so easy...but it's not when the town's Tourist Icon is plainly front & Centre to the foam that day.

tbb wishes to share this seemingly innocent local news story...
Most would naturally view that as the most fun beach ever...but never as a death trap!

Look again!
What does the crew see with yer surf eyes!
Gales whipping alternate high sea currents spewing out seaway wall ramping a multitude of Columns.
These pier columns acted as a default giant blender brewing, pressing, blistering more undulating foam.

It's inevitable that they need to lose the deathtrap that haunts the town.
Deep down all feel it in their bones but none dare speak of it...It's never that easy!

Scheveningen Foam is a common event as with Bhds & Currumbin & Froggies obstacles
Note North sea does fuel foam but most photos centre about the Pier, giving the game away.
So even if wild forces did this & that...then why always is the foam exactly right here many times a year.
2007 Seafoam
2010 Seafoam
2013 Seafoam
2015 Seafoam
2021 Seafoam
Extras (No Date)

What's clear is Scheveningen was famous for it's Ferris Wheel's Playful Ice cream foam beach.
This is why the Bodybasherz jumped right in, as always each time of year...(Just a little more frothy!)
Certainly no signs of danger with the annual foamies just as Goldie Gromz muck right in...It's fun!
Possibly the seas were higher to repeatedly press & bust more bubbles under the pier.

tbb's favourite Dreamworld Thunder river Rapids ride resulted in tragedy.
The only decent half real ride in Australia, whipping up 6ft Wave throws at random. (Sadly it had to go!)
The Themepark industry whole has never yet recovered...tbb can see the parallel at deaths door!

The Whimsical Scheveningen Bubble making machine has lost it's magical Ice Cream foam.
It's no longer a fun place to hang around...sitting on a death trap staring down at the tragedy. No thanx!
We can all see thru the towns eyes, we now know that their foam represented folly...Now Danger!
Gold Coast gets that & tbb / crew can sympathize with Scheveningen...{ Paradise Lost }

2+2 and whole town knows the Pier frothed up the Foam that ended in tragedy & live knowing this!

March 2021 The pier is currently Closed! (Possibly for Covid Lockdown) All know it won't be the same.

Pier Details ( Note 120 columns a great source of wave Power)

tbb doesn't profess to know the machinations...but we now know what else contributes to foam here!