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Madness or top sport? Lou Vlasblom dived with two somersaults from the Hef

Vlasblom makes two somersaults and ends up straight into the icy water of the Maas. Allowed? Absolutely not. When he comes out of the water, he has to go to the police station. He gets a cup of chocolate milk to get warm, but also a police report because he has trespassed and swam in a place where that is not allowed. But there is also cheering at the same time: a week later Lou Vlasblom is even honored in Tuschinski’s Grand Theater in Rotterdam.

“There was a discussion: is he a madman or is he a top athlete?” says Siebe Thissen. He is the author of the book The boy who dived from the Hef, that appears on Saturday. Thissen did extensive research for the book and spoke with the daughter and granddaughter of Vlasblom, who died in 1999.

“He was a great sportsman and that’s how he saw himself,” says Thissen. The jump of the Hef does not appear to be a thoughtless act. Vlasblom was no showman or guts. It wasn’t him to do a stunt. “Those flips weren’t for show, though he loved diving.” The flips are necessary to bring back the speed. “He said ‘if I do those flips, I can slow down my speed and come out just right’. And so it happened, he landed perfectly.”

We speak to Thissen on the Noordereiland in Rotterdam near the northern tower of the Koningshavenbrug, which is better known in the city as De Hef. Thissen points up, to two plateaus at the top of the tower. At 67 meters high is the upper plateau. Lou Vlasblom dived down from that spot in 1933. By way of comparison: the White House at the Oude Haven in Rotterdam is 43 meters high, the tower of the Laurenskerk 65 meters.

In his book, Thissen describes how that Saturday, January 14, 1933, went for Lou Vlasblom. In the morning he simply worked, because the five-day working week does not yet exist in time. Most people also work on Saturday mornings. Vlasblom has a tough job: he is a gut scraper in a slaughterhouse in his residential area of ​​Crooswijk.

Handkerchief stuffed in mouth

He eventually goes to De Hef with his friend Joop Wijnans. Wijnans stops downstairs and has to keep an eye on his friend to make sure there are no boats, wreckage or rats floating. “Lou climbed up, he first went to the top, took off his jacket to get up to temperature. He smoked a cigarette and looked around again and waved at the people below “, describes Siebe Thissen.

“He has put on his coat again and stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth, because he had heard that if you don’t put a handkerchief in your mouth, your breath will be choked and you will die before you get down. He took a deep breath and made that leap”.

Not many people witness the jump. A handful of bystanders have stopped when they see the boy climbing up. An officer of the Rotterdam police is also watching Vlasblom’s action. He takes him to the office to fine him. Mother Vlasblom will pick him up there later.

Vlasblom van de Hef’s jump is not an isolated one. Thissen registers The boy who dived from the Hef how many people are involved in this sport in Rotterdam in the early 1930s. “It was a popular sport, people followed it, they liked this kind of news. They loved diving from high objects, swimming from Calais to Dover, all kinds of things on and around the water, that was a Rotterdam thing”, so says Thissen on the quay of the Maas near the Hef.

“It was an act of significance for Rotterdammers, because never before, anywhere in the world, had anyone jumped from such a great height. It was tried everywhere, in New York, in Stockholm, everywhere people jumped from a great height, but the most people who got over 50 meters broke spines, arms, legs, they broke their necks, they died. But he did it.”

Thissen has looked into whether anyone has ever dived from a higher point, he has not been able to find it. The record is still held by Lou Vlasblom, although it is not an officially recorded record. Thissen: “The world record in the World Guinness Book of Records goes to 50.55 meters, but Lou Vlasblom’s almost 70 meters is unprecedented. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do it, it’s crazy, it’s gigantic high.”

A week after Vlasblom’s honoring, a young Rotterdammer made an attempt to break the record. Jan Tabbernee from the Old North also climbs the northern tower of the Hef. Where Vlasblom dives from the highest plateau, Tabbernee opts for the slightly higher top of the cable wheels.

Tabbernee does not survive his jump, he has fallen dead on the water. “That is also the drama of the whole story, a lot of people afterwards accused Lou Vlasblom that he had killed young boys such as Jan Tabbernee. That is why he did not enjoy his jump later,” Thissen knows. The author has watched interviews with Vlasblom: “Initially they ask about his achievement and then he starts to tell proudly, but immediately after that those questioners start about Jan Tabbernee. Then you see him languish and then you see that it hurts him.”

City myth

Many Rotterdammers know the story of the boy who dived from van de Hef. But just as many people don’t know exactly what it is. That is the reason for Siebe Thissen to buy the book The boy who dived from the Hef to write: “It is a city story, it belongs to Rotterdam. It belongs to a port city, it belongs to a city with a river, with water, bridges. It is a story that people have been telling each other for generations, but many people know not how it was. It is a Rotterdam urban myth, an urban legend. It is pre-war Rotterdam, the book shows a culture. I actually think that all Rotterdammers should know Lou Vlasblom.”

One of the other Rotterdam ‘bridge jumpers’ in the 1930s is Aad van Welzenes. The altitude record is in his name. In August 1932, Van Welzenes dives from one of the arches of the Willemsspoorbrug. It is a dive of 32 meters height. In contrast to Vlasblom, who does not gather people for his special jump, van Welzenes has informed the Polygoon news. Moving images of his jump have been preserved.

Until the dive of Lou Vlasblom’s Hefttoren, the altitude record is in the name of Van Welzenes. Lou Vlasblom’s scrapbook contains the congratulatory note from Van Welzenes.

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