Contact Proof: Mike Woning

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Dispatch

Paintings and words by Mike (as told to Gra Murdoch)

I was born in the Netherlands, but the family moved a lot for my dad’s work – several years in the UK and Canada, before returning to the Netherlands when I was 10. I've been here since.

All that moving wasn’t conducive to long term friendships, so as a youngster I’d draw a lot – mostly pirate ships! The drawing dwindled as I got into windsurfing and skateboarding in the early ‘80s. I used to build a lot of stuff. For winter surf, I built an ice-surfer out of an old skateboard. For the windless summer days I made skimboards with spray paint designs on them. As I got older I’d build stuff for climbing and bouldering, made some furniture and had a go at pressing longboards (skateboards) with a wooden frame and car jacks. I’d thought my creative side dried up after I stopped drawing but now realise it was always there.  

Over time, the windsurfing faded away and I got into freeride telemark skiing with a group of Dutchies. For some reason, someone suggested we do a summer activity and we went surfing. Shitty weak North Sea surf, and I thought my arms and shoulders would fall off – such hard work getting out the back – but I loved every second of it. Bought a board the following season at 38 and never looked back. I’m 49 now.

The Netherlands isn't a great surf zone. We have the North Sea which is shallow and murky. We also have England blocking all the swell from the Atlantic. So our surf has to come from the North, from weather systems between Greenland and Scandinavia. Northerly winds equals waves! But in wintertime, it can also mean bitter cold. This last winter had my teenage daughter and I donning our wetsuits, behind the car in a blizzard with a -20° windchill. Nice offshores though; was a good session!

Mike and daughter Tess on a ‘warm’ 3° winter’s day (sometime around Christmas by the looks of things)

My homespot is The Maasvlakte 2. This is a man-made piece of land on the south side of the Rotterdam Harbour. When building it, they also made some beaches for recreation and those are the beaches we surf. The drive there is quite depressing: massive industry, huge refineries, electric powerplants and what have you. But once you step over the dunes onto those beaches, the heavy industry is out of sight. And given the strict environmental laws here, the water is quite clean. There's a massive seal population close by so we see seals nearly every time we go surfing.

I say ‘we’, so I've got to give a shout out to my surf crew the 'Vlakte Mafia' We're a group of people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds with one thing in common: we love surf and we love our home spot. 

I'm an engineering geologist by trade and work at an independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface. It's a super interesting field. We work on issues that vary from water scarcity, to marine and river ecology, flood safety and the how the changing world impacts these issues. I work as a project manager on the impact of natural hazards on infrastructure networks. In short, our team helps countries, often developing countries, to make investments in infrastructure as effective as possible. I've done projects in Albania, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, and am currently working on a project in Kazakhstan. 

Surfing led me to painting. I’d repurposed a board – using foam from an old windsurfer. It required a tonne of repair work to the foam before I could even get started with shaping. The resulting blank urgently needed a cosmetic make-over. A few YouTube video tutorials later, I found I really enjoyed decorating boards using paint pens and was pretty decent at it too! So, I did my other two boards, then a few skateboards and a skimboard. But then I ran out of boards to paint. However, the seed was planted, and I picked up a brush and bought canvas and paint in tubes in January 2018; have been painting ever since.

I mainly work in acrylics, mostly because we live in a modest Dutch house with no ventilated space for oils, not to mention room for a studio: so the dining room table, chairs, walls are covered in paint - my wife has the tolerance of a saint.

I follow a bunch of photogs on Instagram, and if I see something that blows me off my feet, I ask permission to paint it. Most of them are very kind and appreciate me asking. I also do the odd Dutch landscape and I love clouds and cloudscapes. There’s thousands of cloud photos on my phone.

With a regular day job, I mostly paint at the end of the day, after dinner, when the rest of the family is watching tele. Not my thing most of the time, so instead of leaving the room, I paint. Clear off the dining room table, set up my stuff, don some headphones and listen to music and podcasts.

There are a number of creatives I look up to: Wade Koniakowsky makes breathtaking art, as does Rebecca Arguello. Kevin Lowery has a unique style that I'd like to learn from too.  

I’d like to retire early, buy a camper and surf/ paint myself down to Portugal/ Morocco. Though I don't see myself being able to go 100% professional, I'd like to take my art to a more professional level. I'd like to impact some more people with my paintings, and I hope my ‘Plastic Soup’ series finds some traction and helps, in some small way, address the problem of our oceans becoming increasingly mistreated.

'Breaking Lip' 30 x 40cm acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas. Based on a shot by @MichalPelka. I was blown away by the original photo. My favourite part of this is the subtle blue reflections of the sky caused by the drops of water hitting the top of the wave.

'Shorebreak Foamies', acrylic on stretched canvas, 60 x 90cm, based on a beautiful photo by @cssgns. I think this is from Hossegor.  This is part of the ‘Plastic Soup’ series.

Doing a beach clean up at my local a few years ago opened my eyes to the sheer amount of plastic debris. That's when the 'Plastic Soup' series came to mind: I was going to paint that plastic crap in my 'beautiful' waves too! It hurts every time I deface a wave like this. I feel it in the pit of my stomach... the cringe. And I hope that’s what the viewer feels. 

Anyway, the concept is that the 'Plastic Soup' paintings are available for sale at a friendly price or, for an additional fee, the plastic item will be painted out by yours truly, leaving no traces. Leaving the purchaser with a plastic-free wave.

100% of that additional fee is passed on to the Plastic Soup Foundation, or a similar charity nominated by the purchaser.

'5 Haringen' (5 Herrings in Dutch), 50 x 40cm acrylics on clayboard. A tribute to the five surfers that did not return on 11/5/2020 due to a tragic, freak accident over here. The surfers are now remembered as five white painted herrings on the blocks of the Scheveningen jetty. The painting is based on a magnificent image by @matt_burgess_photo. At the time of painting, one of the surfers had not been found/recovered, which is why he is turned away from the rest of the school.

'Dusk' 40 x 50cm, acrylic on stretched canvas and part of the 'Plastic Soup' series. Based on an image by the great @tynezphoto. Had a ton of fun doing this one, with lots of glazing technique used.

'Green Glass'. Plastic Soup series, 50 x 40cm acrylics on gesso board. The original photo by @seangravem. This is the first painting I sold a print of!

'Under Cover' and 24 x 30cm acrylic on stretched canvas that I did in a quick session practicing with a palette knife. Just for fun and quite early on after I started painting. I should probably do more of this. It's fun to loosen up and not get bogged down in details.

'Golden Hour', 30 x 40cm oil on stretched canvas based on a photo by @collindewell. This is actually the first painting I did in oils: I’m still learning how the oil paint behaves. I'm aching to revisit this piece and refine it, though I know I should probably just move on.

'Northsea Flapper' 80 x 40cm acrylics on stretched canvas, original photo by @65things. The North Sea is dark and murky, but it does have its moments. I can just feel the summer dawn patrol session happening before work: air temps balmy (for us at least), no crowds coz it's so early still, cry of a seagull and the crashing of waist-high perfection.

'Evening Glass' 50 x 70cm on stretched canvas based on a shot by @seangravem. This is still a work in progress, going over it in oils as we speak and will be adding plastic to it. It hurts every time to mess up a painting like this with trash.

'Moody Wave', 30 x 40cm acrylic based on an image by @raycollinsphoto. This was one of the first waves I painted. The clouds drove me crazy!

'The Horses of Manannan', 20 x 55cm, acrylics on pressed board. I was commissioned to make a piece for 'White Horses' surf mag - someone on the other side of the globe asking me to make them some art! Ha!

Anyway, when I heard the title of the magazine, I felt I HAD to do something with horses. The image of a moonlit wave and some cliffs popped to mind. I had those roughed out but no idea how to start on the horse/horses. So I just started painting the wave and foam anyway. And out of nowhere the horses kind of... 'appeared'. I only had to strengthen what was already there. This was a blast to paint and I can’t wait to see it in print.

Check more of Mike’s work out at @paintingsofwaves or


Trentslatterphoto's picture
Trentslatterphoto's picture
Trentslatterphoto Monday, 24 May 2021 at 3:10pm

great article thankyou

DAW's picture
DAW's picture
DAW Monday, 24 May 2021 at 3:19pm

Love every painting,great work,incredible talent.

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright Monday, 24 May 2021 at 3:29pm

I love hearing stories of people who discover a talent later in life. Makes you realise that we should always try new things, even as we get older.

Great article.

Sacdog1's picture
Sacdog1's picture
Sacdog1 Monday, 24 May 2021 at 6:14pm


Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw Monday, 24 May 2021 at 6:34pm

My grandma could take a great photo of a great wave but she sure as shit couldn't paint one. Great work Mike,you're a visionary,not just a button pusher

Numbatt's picture
Numbatt's picture
Numbatt Monday, 24 May 2021 at 6:37pm

Thanks for sharing. Love looking at great images, certainly has an industrial European feel. I love Clarke Takashima, he was such a friendly person too, as most artists seem. Thanks for inspiring.

dstrosberg's picture
dstrosberg's picture
dstrosberg Monday, 24 May 2021 at 10:18pm


Fathom50's picture
Fathom50's picture
Fathom50 Tuesday, 25 May 2021 at 9:40am

You're absolutely loaded to the gunwales with talent Mike; long may you apply those', for the betterment of our fragile planet and for the pleasure and inspiration of mankind. Mahalo

paintingsofwaves's picture
paintingsofwaves's picture
paintingsofwaves Tuesday, 25 May 2021 at 6:20pm

Aaaah! You people are too kind! Thanks for the great comments, glad you like.

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango Thursday, 3 Jun 2021 at 8:40pm

Great stuff, Mike and thanks Gra for getting this published.

Love the moody wave, I reckon it's almost moving. And your job sounds interesting, too - hopefully it means old white men stop putting infrastructure in the wrong place!