Wave pool planned for Belgium’s surfing epicenter

“The North Sea.” Sounds romantic. Mysterious. The name waxes poetic until you’ve spent time exposed on a flat expanse of frozen beach searching a ragged lineup for any signs of rideable surf. Oddly enough, the less-than-inviting set up along the northwest coast of mainland Europe is dotted with core surf communities. Particularly in Belgium.

Like most Belgian surfers, Emilie S from Oostende waits out long flat spells, especially in summer, to get her surf fix in the harsh and fickle North Sea. She shortlisted the challenges surfers face.

“The hardest thing as a Belgian surfer would be the inconsistent swell,” said Emilie. “We don’t have any reefs, so the sandbanks play a big role. It’s usually wind swell. So there’s a small surfing window after the onshore settles and before the swell totally disappears.”

Emilie lives in Oostende, a 35-minute drive from Knokke-Heist, the site of a newly proposed wave pool. To satisfy her froth she travels much of the year to find surf. The pool in Knokke-Heist would cut down on her time spent behind the wheel or cued up at airport security gates.

Many Belgian surfers like Emilie S. travel throughout the year to get their surf fix. A wave pool in Knokke-Heist would mean reliable surf at a much lower cost than a plane ticket.

“Most Belgian surfers travel if they want to progress. The pain is when you come back and you start to wonder how you even surfed that (North Sea) soup all year. If anything it grows character and you learn to read the waves.

Having a local wave pool would mean that Belgian and Dutch surfers could get a shot at surfing a perfect wave that peels – without booking a flight or driving half a day to France or Spain.”

The engine behind the Knokke-Heist project is Frank Vanleenhove, owner of LakesideParadise Belgium. Frank embraced windsurfing in his youth, traveled the world, bagged a national championship (1982) and somewhere along the way discovered surfing.

Belgian surf team
The Belgian Surf team. Most athletes spend time in wave-rich locations across the globe to improve their skills. Photo by ISASurf.

“I brought the first surfboard to Belgium which we initially used behind a boat to replace our waterskis,” said Vanleenhove. “But soon we were towing into small wind chop as we did not realize we could also surf the North Sea waves. Letting go of the rope taught us we could get a small ride, and after buying a bigger board in Biarritz we were soon paddling out to catch our first waves on the Belgian coast.”

In 1988 Frank organized the first Belgian surfing federation and national championships along with establishing seasonal surf camps and lessons. Two decades later he built Lakeside Paradise, a full-service cable park. Anchored along the city’s main lake, the park is a half-mile from the vacation homes and apartment blocks fronting the North Sea adjacent to the Knokke-Heist city center. This is where he wants to build the wave pool.

“Recently the city council agreed with our project called “WaveLake” so we are moving on from there at this very moment. The advantage is that we have already our own parking, showers, changing rooms, bar, restaurant and an 80-bed hostel on the spot.”

SurferParadise wave pool
Artist mock-up of the SurferParadise wave pool using American Wave Machines technology. Owner Frank Vanleenhove has also spoken with Wavegarden

Frank said the location is a big draw, as the pool will be centrally located for much of the North Sea surf crew: six miles from the Dutch border, 37 miles from the French border and 60 miles from the Brussels airport. And while his group is working with Wavegarden and American Wave Machines they haven’t committed to anyone technology yet. Frank said a lot will depend on the size of the pool and the resources available to WaveLake.

“It’s quite hard to assemble all correct and detailed information from the different technology providers and there is a lot of movement going on at this moment which means that it is a hard call to make, and even harder if you have to explain all this to city architects, lawyers, bookkeepers, banks. In other businesses when you have a plan, you get from the provider a fully detailed and worked out case, at this moment it is all like a big secret and as a client who wants a wave pool you need to find your way through the jungle.”

wake paradise
The project has infrastructure already in place with the adjacent LakesideParadise facility

At the completion of two full-size Wavegarden Coves, we are beginning to see how wave settings can be tweaked to suit the local surf community. While Belgian pro surfers like Lars Musschoot and rising junior star Dean Vandewalle would thrive in Urbnsurf’s heavier advanced settings like Beast Mode, the bulk of the surfing population in Belgium would do better with the intermediate wave settings. So operation models and settings done at The Wave in Bristol would be a good format to mimic. Emilie sees the high-performance potential of the coming surf park right off the bat.

“Members of the Belgian surf team could train in Belgium instead of living part-time in Costa Rica,” added Emilie. “And I’m pretty sure this is a dream come true for a lot of Belgian surfers who want to combine surf with a career and a family life. It basically means more opportunity and fewer variables for a surf session to happen. I can’t wait to try it out once it’s built!”

Main image by Damian Davila Photography

Endless Surf 2023A