Racing for Belgium: Kjell De Bruyn’s Road to the ISA SUP World Championship

In a triumphant return from injury, Belgian SUP athlete and NSP team racer Kjell De Bruyn has managed to secure a spot to represent Belgium for the first time at the ISA World SUP & Paddleboard Championship in Les Sables d’Olonne, France next week. Just a few days away from the huge event, Kjell opens up about his journey from injury to international competition, his deep-rooted passion for SUP racing, and the pivotal role played by the Belgian SUP Tour in realizing his dream. Kjell’s incredible comeback story began after a devastating shoulder injury forced him to take a six-month break from the sport he loves. With unwavering determination and meticulous physiotherapy, he fought his way back to peak performance, culminating in a heartwarming victory at the Belgian Sprint and Technical Race championships. Join us as we delve into Kjell’s training regimen, the Belgian SUP Tour’s impact on his career, and his upcoming participation in Les Sables d’Olonne.

Congratulations Kjell on representing Belgium for the first time at an ISA World Championship! Can you share your feelings and thoughts about this opportunity and what it means to you personally?

Thank you Mathieu, It’s a great honour to be selected to go and represent Belgium at the ISA world championships. Finding the support for this venture, it’s a dream coming true.  Combining a full-time job, training and studying, working hard to come back to racing in the past half year, I really didn’t expect it to happen.  In the past I’ve participated in youth world championships in windsurfing T293 and RSX youth and remembering that feeling of a starting line where you line up with the best in the world just gives me goose bumps.

Can you remind us what your history with SUP Racing has been as well as your top achievements and best memories so far?

The year I started competing must have been 2014 or 2015, I’m not that good with dates. But I actually started paddling to get fit again after a knee injury. From there on things went pretty quick, starting in the local races in Belgium. We had a lot of races at the time, flatwater and technical beach races which really stole my heart. With a first podium at the nationals in 2015 and my first national title in 2016, things really kicked off and I started to look towards racing in the netherlands, Eurotour races and the 11-citytour elite race. Since 2016 I’ve been defending my Belgian Title with a little laps this year on the long distance because of the injury. But very proud to win it again on the technical and Sprint. In 2018-2019 I got 5th place in the 11citytour and in. From 2016 till now i’ve kept the national Title well guarded with the exemption of the LD title this year because of Injury. So getting the Technical and Sprint 2023 title was pretty emotional.

Where do you live and what are your usual training spots?

Right now, I live in Belgium close to the city of Antwerp, where I also work as a PE and Physics teacher in a secondary school.  I usually train on a canal about a 15-minute drive from where I live. Next to that, there’s a small lake about an hour’s drive where I can practice beachstarts etc. But my favourite sessions are on open water. These open-water sessions may take place anywhere on the Belgian or Dutch coast or on the big lakes in the Netherlands.

You made a remarkable comeback to competition after a 6-month break due to a shoulder injury. What was your journey to recovery like, and how did you manage to get back to your peak performance level?

Second of March I broke the processus majus of my right humerus (attachment place of the rotatorcuff muscles and a lot more),  a few ribs on the right side and cracked my scaphoid in the left hand. So It was a pretty big setback after training hard through the winter with Michael. The first month I just needed to rest and sit still with the shoulder. After that I started on my stationary Zwiftbike and  started to work with a physio twice a week to rehabilitate the shoulder and start building up the strenght again for paddling. After 2,5 months about, 10weeks after the incident I had my first paddle sessions and from there on I started to build up again with Michael training. The shoulder is still not where it should be as the relative position has changed a little and the ribs on the rightare still pretty sesitive to overtraining. But it’s the proces of training that I enjoi so much so working towards a goal like a belgian championship or worlds just fuels the motivation even more.

Winning the Belgian Sprint and Technical Race championships is a significant achievement. How did it feel to taste victory again?

Honestly, I think it was one of the more emotional wins of my paddling career, after my first Belgian title and my first SUP 11 City podium. Winning from my good friend and nemesis ( 😉 ) Joep Van Bakel and proving to myself that I can still paddle at a high level was something I doubted for months. So yes, tasting victory was super sweet and I will keep on working hard for it.

The Belgian SUP Tour as well as the newly formed Belgian Surf and SUP Federation played a pivotal role in your journey to the ISA World Championship. How has their support and involvement helped you?

As I told you in the past I’ve competed in windsurfing and support has always been hard to come by compared to our neighboring countries of the Netherlands and France. And just as in windsurfing, SUP hasn’t had a lot of support in the past. That’s also the reason why I never participated in a world championship before for SUP. Not because i didn’t want it because I’ve been on starting lines next to the best and it is the best feeling. But because as a full-time teacher and everyday working person, it’s almost impossible to finance this dream. In Belgium, even top athletes in big sports like athletics take out loans and unpaid leave from work to chase their dreams.
And it’s because of The Belgian SUP Tour and Vincent Claeskens that I’m able to actually make this dream come true! he stepped up and gave SUP a platform in Belgium and now the BST is helping me finance this endeavor.

What would you say to anyone interested in racing in Belgium and taking part in a Belgian SUP Tour event?

Go for it! Any level of paddler has a place there and can compete at his or her own level. From the first-time racer to the elite /pro-level racers.
The tour exists for racers and is created as a platform where we can showcase our sport and all its beauty from ULTRA distance races to shorter technical races with superlaps. The BST has it all.

What disciplines are you taking part in in Les Sables d’Olonne? Have you studied the course maps and conditions. What strategies for staying focused mentally and physically are you going to use?

I’ll be doing the Sprint, Technical and Long distance races. I’ve seen the course maps and I’m very excited out them. Not a boring straight-line sprint but an OUT and BACK. A very nice-looking technical and an open ocean LD race love it. I still have to get in-depth with the local conditions but I’ll be arriving a few days before racing which will give me time to get used to that. Staying focused won’t be a problem before the race i love visualisation exercises with the headphones on blasting metal music. Physical It’s a challenge, the Belgian championship had it’s toll on my body again and the ribs are playing up. So really doing a lot of physio work these days in the run up to the event and staying positive that everything will be fine. Just stay positive and enjoy the ride 😉

Can you describe your choice of gear?

Well board choice has been kind a rollercoaster for me. I always train on the NSP Ninja and it’s super versatile in handling a lot of conditions. But hopefully, I’ll be able to paddle an NSP Carolina if conditions get big. Paddles i’l be using The QB T2 and UV88. Love these paddles!

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About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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