2024 Paddle of the Kempen: Sneak peek of the Belgian SUP Tour’s stop #2 with Nathalie Van Olmen

With athletes increasingly fine-tuning their training to particular race formats, the Paddle of the Kempen, a designated flat water 12km elite SUP event taking place on canals, is uniquely positioned on the SUP racing circuit.

In the run up to the second stop of the Belgian SUP Tour (BST) held on 5 May in Dessel, Belgium, TotalSUP caught up with Nathalie Van Olmen, Belgian SUP Champion, Coach and Owner of the Kempen SUP, to chat about expanding the reach of the event and focusing on the next generation of paddlers.

Photo by Marloes Kaal Sportfotografie

Hi Nathalie, welcome back to TotalSUP! Could you tell us more about your pro SUP journey and the growth of Kempen SUP, one of the largest paddle clubs in Belgium?

Thank you for having me back, it’s great to be here again. My SUP journey has primarily revolved around the Belgian SUP Tour (BST). I initially started participating in these competitions because of the vibrant atmosphere and the enjoyable outings they offered. It was all about the camaraderie and fun of being out on the water with fellow enthusiasts.

However, since last Summer, my approach to SUP has evolved significantly. I’ve had the privilege of being coached by Kaelan Lockhart, and under his guidance, the focus has shifted towards not only enjoying the sport but also aiming for greater performance. I’ve noticed significant improvements in my skills and abilities. Last year, I had the honour of becoming the Belgian Champion in both Ultra Long Distance and Long Distance races.

Photo by Marloes Kaal Sportfotografie

Due to the commitments at Kempen SUP, I haven’t always been able to travel and participate in all the competitions I would have liked. However, in 2024, we’re planning to schedule more trips to SUP events abroad, allowing me to broaden my horizons and challenge myself against new competition.

As for the growth of Kempen SUP into a paddle club, it’s been an incredible journey. From the early days of Kempen SUP, we began offering technical lessons for those who wanted to practice regularly. It didn’t take long for us to develop a close-knit community feel. Now, we’ve evolved into a full-fledged club providing training across three skill levels, including sessions tailored for juniors. We’re fortunate to have a dedicated team of helpers, supporters, and, of course, our own members who are always eager to pitch in for every event. We enjoy spending time together both on and off the water.

Nathalie at EuroTour Namur Sup Race 2023 | Photo credit: EuroTour

Could you share the background story of the Paddle of the Kempen race?

The Paddle of the Kempen race holds a special place in our hearts as it’s deeply intertwined with the origins of Kempen SUP and our SUP Club Kempen. The race takes place at the Sas-4 Tower in Dessel, which is where our members frequent the most and where everything began for us. Situated on the beautiful canal, the location offers us the flexibility to paddle in various directions.

Photo by Jef Vervrangen

With the help of our dedicated team of volunteers, we transform the venue from scratch, setting up a large tent, a bar, and offering delicious burgers to create a welcoming atmosphere. The race always attracts a crowd of spectators and it’s incredibly rewarding to see so many people enjoying themselves along the canal’s towpath, cheering on the competitors. It’s a fantastic opportunity for supporters to immerse themselves in the excitement of the race.

Photo by Dirk Vos

As a club, we’re grateful that people return year after year, making the event a success and helping it gain recognition even beyond our borders. It’s truly heartwarming to witness the growing popularity of the Paddle of the Kempen race internationally. Moreover, it’s not just about the race itself; it’s about embracing the entire experience and making it a memorable weekend for everyone. Many of us enjoy extending the festivities by camping or staying in the Kempen region, making it a truly immersive and enjoyable experience.

Returning for 2024, and part of the 2024 Belgian SUP Tour (2nd stop) and the BeNe Sup Tour, the event has grown into an international SUP race. What’s your vision behind this year’s event?

For the 2024 edition of our event, we’re thrilled to announce that it’s not only part of the Belgian SUP Tour but also a stop on the BeNe SUP Tour (Belgian / Netherlands), marking its international status. Our vision for this year’s event is to attract more participants from abroad, fostering a truly diverse and inclusive atmosphere. We believe that competing against participants from different countries adds an exciting dimension to the race, providing an opportunity for everyone to challenge themselves and broaden their horizons.

Photo by Jef Vervrangen

Paddle of the Kempen is a unique flat water event taking place on the canals. Is this the key driver to participate for SUP athletes who train predominantly on flat water?

Yes, indeed. Paddle of the Kempen offers a unique experience as a flat water event held on the canals. This distinctive setting serves as a key attraction for SUP athletes, particularly those who predominantly train on flat water. The race’s course presents a low barrier to entry for those who are just starting to venture into competitive SUP racing. It provides an ideal opportunity for beginners to test their skills in a supportive environment.

However, what makes Paddle of the Kempen truly special is its versatility. While it may be approachable for newcomers, it also presents a thrilling challenge for experienced elite paddlers. The flat water conditions may seem tranquil, but they can often lead to incredibly fast-paced races, pushing even the most seasoned athletes to their limits. This duality of accessibility and competitiveness is what sets Paddle of the Kempen apart and makes it a must-attend event for SUP enthusiasts of all levels.

Photo by Dirk Vos

Who is the event aimed for? Can anyone attend?

Similar to my answer in the previous question, Paddle of the Kempen is an event that welcomes participants of all skill levels and backgrounds. This year, we’re placing particular emphasis on encouraging kids and juniors to participate.

In fact, for the 2024 edition, Paddle of the Kempen will serve as the Belgian Championship for juniors, highlighting our commitment to promoting youth involvement in the sport. We believe that providing opportunities for young paddlers to compete not only fosters their skills and passion for SUP but also helps to build a strong foundation for the future of the sport.

What can participants expect this year?

Participants can expect a well-organized and exciting race, with plenty of opportunities to connect with fellow paddlers. Whether it’s your first time participating or you’re a seasoned veteran, we’re dedicated to ensuring that everyone has a fantastic time at Paddle of the Kempen.

Thanks to our generous sponsors each participant can anticipate receiving a special goodie bag, filled with treats and surprises to enhance their race day experience. Additionally, we always strive to include a unique memento from the race as a keepsake.

We love that you include the Kids race in the formats. As a SUP Coach, have you noticed an increase in SUP interest in kids and junior age groups? What should be done to get more kids into the competitive side of the sport?

To further encourage participation in the competitive side of the sport among kids and juniors, we’ve been proactive in organizing various activities and opportunities for them. This includes hosting training camps, collaborating with SUP clubs from neighbouring countries, and planning workshops led by elite paddlers. Additionally, we’re keen on expanding their horizons by exploring different locations and even giving them the chance to experience paddling in the open sea.

Photo by Jef Vervrangen

We firmly believe that kids and juniors thrive on challenges and it’s our responsibility to nurture their passion for SUP. They deserve more attention in the competitive scene, and we’re committed to providing them with the support and resources they need to excel. By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, we hope to see even more young paddlers embracing the competitive side of the sport and achieving their full potential.

Photo by Jef Vervrangen

Could you share a sneak peek of who has confirmed their participation already?

We’re excited to share that for this year’s event, we’ve already received confirmation of participation from a fantastic group of kids and juniors! In fact, it’s quite remarkable – at the moment, we have more young participants registered than adults, and they were also the first to sign up!

Photo by Jef Vervrangen

Thank you for your time Nathalie. We can’t wait to see how this year’s event unfolds!

To find out more about the Belgian SUP Tour (BST), visit

Follow Belgian SUP Tour (BST) on Facebook and Instagram

Follow Nathalie Van Olmen and Kempen SUP on Instagram

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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