Manuel Lauwers: Exploring the Thrills of the Belgian SUP Tour

Ahead of the Belgian Sprint & Technical Race Championship taking place on September 2 (and LIVE on TotalSUP!), discover the exhilarating Belgian SUP Tour through the eyes of Manuel Lauwers, a dedicated athlete hailing from the picturesque city of Antwerp in Belgium. With a passion that spans nearly a decade, Manuel has risen to prominence in the SUP community, participating fervently to most events on the Belgian circuit. From tranquil training spots in the Kempen region to challenging races that test his mettle, Manuel’s journey reflects the fusion of determination and camaraderie that define the sport, especially in Belgium. As a steadfast member of the local SUP scene, Manuel’s insights shed light on the growth and evolution of SUP racing in Belgium.

Hello Manuel! Can you share a bit about your journey into the world of SUP racing? How did you get started, and what drew you to this sport?

My journey into SUP racing began 9 years ago, and I’ve been actively competing for the past 5 years. What initially attracted me to this exhilarating sport was the unique combination of tranquility and physical challenge that stand-up paddleboarding offers. The feeling of gliding across the water while pushing my limits was a captivating experience that instantly hooked me.

Living in Belgium, could you tell us about your current location, the training club you’re a part of, and some of your favorite local spots for paddling and training?

I’m fortunate to call the picturesque region near Antwerp in the Kempen my home. Here, I’ve found serene training spots that align perfectly with my paddling aspirations. I’m a proud member of a dedicated training club that shares my passion. Some of my cherished local paddling spots include the enchanting waterways of Ghent, the scenic Waasland area, and the refreshing expanse of Lac de l’Eau d’Heure.

Question: The Belgian SUP Tour (BST) seems to be making strides in consolidating a Belgian circuit for SUP racing. What are your thoughts on these efforts, and how do you believe they’re contributing to the growth of the sport in Belgium?

The emergence of the Belgian SUP Tour over the last two years, spearheaded by Vincent Claeskens and bolstered by the local SUP community and our Dutch counterparts, is truly commendable. The tour offers a range of competitions catering to various skill levels, from beginners to seasoned racers. This inclusivity and camaraderie within the community have fostered an environment where everyone is not only welcome but also motivated to excel. I’m optimistic about its growth, especially for the younger generation who can gain invaluable experience racing alongside elite athletes, a trajectory we’ve seen with notable athletes from the Netherlands.

You’ve been participating in the Belgian SUP Tour. Could you highlight some of your results so far and provide insight into the level of competitiveness you’ve experienced within the circuit?

As a participant in the elite and 40+ categories, I’ve been fortunate to be part of some intense competitions within the Belgian SUP Tour. The 40+ category consistently delivers closely-fought races that showcase the skill and determination of the participants. The elite races have been no less competitive, featuring formidable contenders like Donato Freens, Joep Van Bakel, Kjell De Bruyn, and Kaelan Lockhart. It’s noteworthy that the women’s competition is growing stronger every year, adding to the overall excitement and diversity of the circuit. This year has been particularly satisfying for me, securing a 1st place in the Frieslanf marathon, a 3rd place in the Belgian championship, a 6th place in the Battle of the Kempen, and a 2nd place in Lille, France.

I was told you rescued a paddler in distress during the ULD championships. Can you tell us about this anecdote in more detail?

The incident during the ULD championships was a challenging experience due to adverse weather conditions. The race started on the already demanding lake of the 11 City Tour, which was soon compounded by worsening winds on a vast lake. Unfortunately, one of the racers encountered difficulties with his equipment, causing him to fall into the water multiple times, eventually losing control of his SUP. Upon hearing his calls for help, I quickly turned back, reaching him and providing assistance. We clung to my SUP and swam to safety together. In a display of solidarity, two more paddlers joined us, and we wisely decided to continue the race as a group of four for added safety amidst the challenging weather conditions.

Belgium might not be the first place that comes to mind as a stand-up paddle destination. How would you introduce Belgium to fellow SUP enthusiasts looking for new places to paddle? What makes it a special location for the sport?

While Belgium might not be an instantly recognizable SUP destination, it holds its own unique charm for enthusiasts seeking diverse paddling experiences. What truly sets Belgium apart is its warm and welcoming SUP community, united by their shared passion. The picturesque waterways of Ghent, the serene Waasland area, and the tranquil Lac de l’Eau d’Heure provide a varied backdrop for paddlers to explore. It’s not just about the location, but the sense of camaraderie and support that truly makes Belgium a standout location for the sport.

The Belgian Sprint and Technical Race Championship is on the horizon. Could you share your excitement about these upcoming events and what you’re looking forward to the most?

The upcoming Belgian Sprint and Technical Race Championship is a prospect that fills me with excitement and anticipation although sprinting might not be my forte. I have to say the crown jewel of the 11 City Tour lies ahead though, offering a thrilling challenge and the opportunity to compete against talented international racers. I look forward to pushing my limits and enjoying the exhilarating atmosphere of these two events in the first half of September.

As someone deeply involved in the Belgian SUP scene, where do you see the sport heading in the country in the next few years? Are there any developments or trends you anticipate that could further enhance the SUP racing experience locally?

Over the next few years, I envision the Belgian SUP scene consolidating its competitions while elevating the overall standard of racing. Collaborating with our Dutch counterparts to synchronize competition calendars holds the potential to create a more robust and competitive environment. This cooperation will not only benefit seasoned athletes but also nurture the growth of young talents. As Belgium’s SUP community evolves, I see a future where the sport gains prominence, attracting enthusiasts and athletes from near and far.

Find our more about the Belgian SUP Tour:

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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