Nobody would ever think of Belgium as a wakeboarding hotspot within Europe. There are no cables, unlike Germany which is littered with them, and it isn’t nearly as warm as Spain. However, Belgium is actually pretty sweet when you get to ride in the right places.
Going into my third trip to Belgium, I already felt like a pro. I knew that the weather would be very unpredictable, we'd be staying in caravans down by an awesome lake, the riders are talented and motivated and that it was going to be another fun week of riding and hanging out with the boys.
Unfortunately, it started out a little rough. I took a redeye flight from New York to Brussels (with a one-hour layover in Dublin... read: I barely made my flight) and managed only one hour of Ambien-assisted sleep on the plane.
When I arrived at 10:00 AM, I was exhausted before the day even began. Since I didn’t want to be jet-lagged for the first week of the trip, I managed to push through the day by going to this narrow canal, hopping on a boat and doing some riding (and coaching when I could harness enough brain capacity to formulate coherent sentences). When all was said and done, we actually had a really fun day on the water.
After leaving the canal, Xavier Bonnet (who is in charge of the wakeboard and waterski federation in Belgium) and I made our way to l'Eau d'Heure. This chain of lakes is awesome. Each lake has a designated activity which isn’t allowed on the other lakes so people can’t get pissed off at each other; wakeboarding and waterskiing, jetskiing, fishing, sailing, etc. It’s all divided.
So the first couple of coaching days were pretty relaxed. We ended up scoring with the weather and everybody was riding really well and learning new tricks. Then Wednesday rolled around. Everything was running smoothly until Julien Bonnet (who is a killer rider, by the way) runs down to the dock and tells me that we have to put the boat away because a "hurricane is coming." Obviously, it wasn’t a hurricane, but I knew that if Julien was worked up about something then it was going to be bad.
About thirty minutes later the sky turned black and the wind was ripping. I decided to take refuge in one of the caravans and while I was in there I could feel it rocking back and forth with the wind. On top of that, the rain was coming down with incredible force and there was lightning all around us. I wasn’t 100% confident with my decision to stay in the van, but after about forty-five minutes the storm subsided and we made our way back to the water.
To finish off the day, we all had a massive group dinner followed by a party with a DJ and live music. All of this was held amongst the campers. It was a fun night and we all stayed up way too late. Some of us definitely went harder than others, but I played it safe knowing that I had to be up early to do some coaching.
It is really cool to see this different approach to riding. It is as if everyone that stays at the campgrounds treats each other as family. They always look out for one another with riding, meals, entertainment, etc. There really is a different vibe and it’s fun to be around.
The remainder of the week turned out really well with more and more tricks going down (Tootsies, KGBs, HS 5s and HS 7s, just to name a few). Unfortunately, the wind didn’t cooperate with us for one afternoon, so we took a field trip to a local indoor swimming facility. There were tons of people there, all of whom were pasty white and sporting speedos and swim goggles. We definitely stood out (in a good way). They had a springboard set up and we all took our turn to step it up from the standard pencil drops that were being thrown down. We ended up having quite the crowd and, before we knew it, there were all sorts of people trying to do flips (trying being the key word). Eventually we stopped jumping off the diving board solely to watch the carnage of all the belly and back flops. What an entertaining way to spend the afternoon.
So back to wakeboarding. Throughout the week I talked to Xavier about the status of wakeboarding in Belgium. Are there many riders outside of this group? Is it growing? Those types of questions. It turns out that Xav is taking some necessary steps to help grow the sport in his country. He has been to tons of meetings and just recently was told that the government would give him land on which he can build a cable park. We went on a tour around the lakes of l'Eau d'Heure and he showed me the future site of the Belgium cable park. It is a cool little lake that will be perfect for operating a cable and, after talking to him about his plans, it sounds like they are going to have a great setup. With more and more access to riding, we will probably see some more good riders coming out of this country.