It’s really possible: surfing in an abandoned canal in the city of Rotterdam

He looks around with wide eyes from the quayside of Rotterdam’s Steigersgracht. Until recently, this was a forgotten part of the city, right next to the Market. “No, in Belgium there is really nothing like that,” says four-time Belgian surfing champion Michiel van Acker. In Belgium, he has to drive to the sea to surf, and even then it is always dependent on the weather.

Suddenly you can surf here at any time. “I can’t wait to try it out,” says Van Acker, who was invited along with other surfers to try out the course the day before the official opening this weekend. He then hurriedly changes his clothes on the terrace of the beach bar, which has also just opened. After the first wave, which breaks over two reefs, the Belgian surfer immediately makes a decision while paddling out. “Yes,” he says in Flemish, “this is good. There is power behind this.”

Maasvlakte wind power

Four million litres of water from the Rotte are held in the 125-metre-long and 25-metre-wide concrete reservoir, which is located in this former, abandoned urban canal. Thanks to an air pressure system, the waves are generated mechanically. “The waves we make here are common on Dutch beaches, but you can really count them on the fingers of one hand,” says creator Edwin van Vliegen, also a surfer.

“We can create them here at any time. We do this with large motors. We try to be as sustainable as possible with wind power from Maasvlakte.” Generating a wave costs electricity – approximately seventy-five cents per wave. “But if there are only two surfers in the water, it is obviously not necessary to generate a wave every seven seconds. We will adjust that immediately.”

The noise that residents have been dreading for years is not so bad on this test day. Only the sudden sound of the crashing waves is new to Rotterdam residents, who have known about the arrival of the surf bay for ten years. Ten years – that was how long the run-up lasted. Rif010 was the winner of City Initiative 2014, at that time an annual internet election for the best project for the city. This initiative devised by D66 became the most popular plan, voted for by Rotterdam’s internet voters. The prize pool of several million served as a seed grant for the city to make this idea a reality.

Rounding up votes

In the first year, the municipal initiative won an ice rink, in the second year a wooden bridge on the now closed Coolsingel. In the third year, the idea of ​​creating a surfing bay in a city canal won. Around 22,000 Rotterdam residents voted, 42 percent of whom chose the surfing bay. But there was criticism. There was a scandal over vote-seeking and other finalists filed a lawsuit. Already during this voting period, the municipal council decided to stop this initiative.

While the City Initiative became a forgotten phenomenon in the following years, the plans continued behind the scenes. The development of RIF010 was plagued by demands from residents, among other things. In 2019, the Council of State finally declared these objections unfounded and construction could begin in 2022. The three million from the municipal initiative turned out to be insufficient: the developer Vliegen kept the total costs at more than ten million euros. That money was raised by private investors.

The rink is now officially open. It is free to visit, but a one-hour surfing session costs 50 euros. The surfer gets about fifteen waves for this. However, the rink is there for all Rotterdam residents, says the initiator, who has just shown how easy it is to press the button that sets the waves in motion in the city centre. “That is important to us. With our foundation, we offer free lessons to schoolchildren in the city.”

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