As a child, if I had one ambition in life, it was to become an explorer. Before properly studying anthropology, I waywarded into ethnomethodology, and then my bipolar disorder kicked in. As this did not allow me to continue with my study, I started sculpting in wood. Between oceans of misery came continents of divine inspiration. The first ten years were of an explorative nature indeed. My subjects mainly originated from my garden: insects, slugs, butterflies and such, sometimes blending them with my own imagination. After a while I stopped working with square-sawn wood and took my inspiration from its natural shape, its colour or its grain. I mostly use oaken wood for the larger sculptures. For the smaller ones I use tropical wood, which in its wide variety has two common characteristics: it is extremely hard and very, very beautiful. As are the names: Lignum Vitae, Ebony, Rosewood, Partidgewood, Letterwood, Gombeira, Cocobolo, Cape Dawson, Boxwood, Coromandel, Ironwood.
After this period of flirts and skirmishes I met the great mind in the water, the Whale. I started sculpting the fluke and after a while took an interest in the various species. For several years now I have been looking for specific manoeuvres to grasp the hydrodynamics in whales and dolphins in my sculptures. Part of the challenge is to capture the physical interaction with the water. To try and imagine what it's like to be a dolphin, I tried to empathise with its physical circumstances by swimming with a monofin. Because my hands were just idling along, I looked for ways to include them.
This resulted in the development of the 'WaterWing'. It can best be described as a fusion of the pectoral fins, which are tilted into an up- and down movement in which the water is pushed backwards. In the literature I had come across Grey's Paradox. In 1936 he calculated the theoretical top-speed of a whale on the basis of data on physical strength and water-resistance. In reality, the whale moved three to four times faster! This made me wonder if whales make use of certain properties of the water which are not known to us. Until recently I believed that if I would find the answer, I could make use of it myself.
The first time I swam with whales was on a pilot whale expedition near Tenerife in 1990. There I met Horace Dobbs, founder of the International Dolphin Watch. He told me about the Dingle dolphin, Fungi, in Ireland and how dolphins have this magical quality to cheer up people who are down in the dumps. Two years later I went there for the first time and I felt very much recognised by Fungi. After the second time, in February '93, I wrote a book about my adventures: 'Fungi, de Dingle dolfijn'. I've been to Ireland eight times now (and counting!). The last two times I went to Fanore (co. Clare) to swim with 'Mara', a young lady bottlenose who also proved quite charmed by my monofin-waterwing outfit.
In 1996/97 I did a bow-wave project in a Dutch dolphinarium and got permission to experiment with toys for dolphins. These toys were based on the waterwing and turned out to be pretty popular. The element completing my instrumentarium since half a year, is the dorsal fin. It is especially helpful in submerging.
Recently, in preparing a presentation on Whale propulsion, I found my theory on 'properties of water that we do not know of' to be incorrect. In my way of fin-swimming, the wing and fin go up and down simultaneously. I push my wing against the monofin and at the same time push the fin against the wing. In this way I can exert much more power. Still I am not just looking for pure speed. I think it is much more interesting to develop manoeuvres by which I can discover and experience the underwater ways.