Rudy Van Haven: From Sprint Kayak Powerhouse to Lake Rocks Festival Maestro

Once a world top-10 sprint kayak athlete, now a driving force in the Austrian SUP race scene, Rudy Van Haven holds the reins of the highly anticipated Lake Rocks Festival 2024 in Faaker See, Austria as Event Sports Director on May 9 to 12. As round #2 of the ICF SUP World Ranking circuit and a pivotal fixture in the central European SUP Alps Trophy circuit, this event promises unparalleled excitement over 4 days of lake-side family fun mixed with absolute world-class SUP Racing with hundreds of participants (400 last year !) from all around Europe, and hopefully this year, the world and a prize money pot of €12,000! When this Gentle Giant is not race directing, he is paddling and we are dying to find out if he can share any tips for fellow heavy paddlers and what his preferred gear is!

Hello Rudy, could you first of all remind us of your kayak background and achievements?

Hi there Mathieu. Well, it all started in 1981 when I accompanied my brother to a kayak contest. From that point until 2000, I achieved more than 400 podium positions, both nationally and internationally. From 1991 to 1996, I consistently ranked among the top ten in the world over the 500-meter distance. Also, at World and European Championships, I achieved several top-10 rankings. Besides my sport, it was always important for me to advance my professional future, so I was never a professional athlete or made a living from it.

That’s very impressive! How then did you transition from Sprint kayaking to SUP? What drew you to this sport, and how has your background influenced your approach to SUP Racing?

I first came into contact with SUP on vacation in 2011. A Naish Nalu 11.6×30 was the first board I stood on. Since I had organized numerous kayak and martial arts competitions before, I quickly recognized the shortcomings in the SUP events and started creating my own competitions in 2013. The most famous is the RAVEN van HAVEN, which will take place for the 11th time this year. It’s kind of an experimental workshop where I’ve always tested new formats. Already in 2015, the first straight 200-meter sprint took place in the harbor. But the Danube Canal challenge on the Danube through Vienna with more than 200 participants in 2018 was also part of my work.

As one of the most active figures in the Austrian SUP Race scene, what developments have you witnessed over the years? Could you describe your role as Sports Director for SUP events? How do you contribute to the success of these events and where are we going to see you this year?

In 2019, I officially started to work as a sports director of the Austrian SUP Association for the home SUP scene. My biggest success in this activity was the delegation of 36 athletes to the ICF World Championship in Hungary in 2021 with measurable success in the medal count and the organization of the SUP event in Millstatt. There the friendship has also become engrossed with Gerd Weisner, boss of the SUP Alps Trophy, and I followed his offer in 2023 and became part of the organization. The SUP ALPS TROPHY is increasingly developing into a successful history, and we aim to bring this racing series successfully all the way down to the Adriatic Sea and draw even more attention to this wonderful sport. Besides, I also gladly offer my expert assessment to other event managers free of charge and also enjoy accepting invitations to be on-site to help. I see this simply as part of my obligation due to my experience in paddle sports. #MAKESUPGREATAGAIN is not just a phrase! This year you will find me at the Spring SUP Race in Italy, the Lake Rocks Festival in Austria, the Adria SUP Challenge and the Bohinj SUP Challenge in Slovenia and for sure the grand finale of the SUP Alps Trophy: The Legend of Ox in Wolfgangsee, Austria.

Busy man! It sounds like we’re going to see each other a lot! Can you detail in particular The Lake Rocks Festival in Faaker See, Austria? What exciting novelties can participants and spectators expect at ICF World Ranking event this year?

This year we want to take the next step towards the professional organization of the races. With Norman Weber, the technical director of the tour, I have a perfect partner who can optimally accommodate and implement my urge to improve. This enables us to introduce a new format – a Time-trial Sprint – this year. It’s going to be a crazy spectacle! In addition, there is the magnificent River race in the nearby town of Villach as well as the Long Distance and the Tech race on the Lake. My special highlight will, of course, be the Fun Race and the Big SUP race, where we expect a huge number of leisure paddlers again this year.

For those who are considering attending The Lake Rocks Festival, what would you say are the standout reasons to be a part of this event? What sets it apart from other SUP events?

The most important aspect is the professionalism and the family character of the event. The SUP Alps Trophy is the only tour I know worldwide that attracts so many amateur paddlers to their competitions. This is also because we allow access not only to the applications and distances but also financially easily. The event pass at THE LAKE ROCKS SUP FESTIVAL costs only 75 euros for all competitions. With 6 races, each costs only 12.5 euros! This is our way – we want to get families on the water and see them at the start with a smile.

Let’s talk about your paddling. As a heavy and tall paddler, what unique challenges do you encounter in SUP racing, both in terms of paddling and finding suitable equipment, and how do you overcome them? Are there any specific strategies or adjustments you’ve made to optimize your performance?

With almost 110 kg and 190 cm, I am an exotic in SUP race sports. This is, of course, a specification that does not lend itself to high expectations in terms of results. But that doesn’t prevent me from participating with joy and fun. Of course, I bring 44 years of paddle sports experience and know my body, my needs, but also my limits very accurately. Besides personal attitude, material is crucial. I often see paddlers who have misconceptions about their performance and struggle with boards that are too narrow. Frustration from this is entirely normal. Initially, I felt the same way! I’m not afraid to use a 14×30 board – all I want is to participate and become part of the story. This is more important to me than anything else!

Consequently, could you give us some insights into your SUP quiver? What boards and paddles do you prefer, and how do you select the right equipment for different conditions or competitions?

What I would like to emphasize is that I don’t have a sponsor contract with anyone. I use all the sports equipment out of conviction and purchase them like most of you do. After many tests with different boards over the last 10 years, I currently feel most comfortable on the Infinity Blackfish Dugout – 27 wide. Andrey Kraytor motivated me to use the Quickblade T2, which I use in 194 cm length. This combination of board and paddle works best for me so far. In addition, I have 6 more boards ranging from 25 to 30 inches and different paddles in length and stability. But if I had to choose one board to keep, it would be the Blackfish. This is my universal weapon.

Thank you Rudy for your time! We can’t wait to be a part of the fun at the Lake Rocks Festival 2024, and I look forward to seeing you first at the Spring SUP Race in Comacchio, Italy!

To find out more about The Lake Rocks Festival on May 9 > 12, visit:

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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