The Belgian surfing sport began in Knokke-Heist. Frank Vanleenhove stood there as the first 25-kilo board, with teak sword, boom and a sail like a dish rag. He was thirteen at the time. Today he is an accomplished globetrotter, has been running Surfers Paradise for thirty years and since 2012 also Lakeside Paradise.
In 1950, father Vanleenhove was appointed permanent mathematics teacher at the Atheneum of Knokke-Heist. The young family moved from Ostend to a small flat nearby. A little later they built on the Zegemeer. A fantastic stroke of luck for me. I grew up on and in the water, right across the renowned Hotel La Réserve. Every week, a helicopter brought in fruit and vegetable vendors from the early market in Brussels. They also had their own motorboat, for guests who liked to water-ski.'
In 1975, the very first surfboards arrived in our country - at La Réserve - together with a Dutch instructor. Because nobody was familiar with the sport yet, there was no enthusiastic audience. That man was often twiddling his fingers. He saw that I am a born water rat and started to teach me. I was allowed out on the lake as often as I wanted, to attract people. That was the start of my windsurfing career.
Meanwhile, Frank crosses trip after trip of handsome surf spots off his bucket list. In the off-season, because otherwise it's all hands on deck in Surfers Paradise and Lakeside Paradise. Where surfers from California, Hawaii, Australia... regularly fly in. Once April arrives, I'm hooked on the adrenaline rush of working 15 to 18 hours a day, the city coming to life and the beaches filling up. In the off-season, I incredibly enjoy the emptiness and the peace, and the togetherness and conviviality. Knokke-Heist has everything of a big city but in winter it is a village, everyone knows everyone.
What makes Knokke-Heist extra special? For me, Knokke-Heist is the superlative of normal. You won't find just any baker or average boutique here. The quality of life and joie de vivre are gigantic. It is wonderful walking and cycling. The boroughs are also pleasant. I lived in Heist, Westkapelle and Duinbergen. And now back in our beloved house at the Zegemeer. The circle is complete.
Frank's favourite spot in Knokke-Heist? The beach of course. I am always happy when I see the sea. I like to have it close by, even on holiday. He prefers to go out to eat in Le Boudin Sauvage. A friendly, family-run bistro. We start with an apero at the bar and end with a dance after dinner. Together with other locals. On rare days off, the generous breakfast buffet at Le Beau. The best pistolets ever, in combination with a priceless view of the unspoilt fields.