Managing director and Surf pioneer Frank Vanleenhove was received at the palace in Brussels to receive the official certificate from the hands of King Philippe.
Back in 2011, the - then - Prince stepped onto Surfers Paradise beach asking if he could learn to kitesurf there. At the time, Surfers Paradise was already an internationally recognised IKO kitesurfing school and had all the equipment and vessels to teach anyone the sport smoothly and safely.
It was Frank Vanleenhove who got to welcome the King and teach him the first tricks of the trade.
Frank: "the King was highly motivated from the start and was also well versed in what kitesurfing actually entails. After we went through the first lessons, I remember at the third session he firmly said "today I really want to be on the board".
Credit: © Royal Palace, Belgium/Palais Royal, Belgique/Königlicher Palast, Belgien/Royal Palace, Belgium
Indeed, first you learn to control the kite on the beach, then you learn "body dragging" in the water , then you learn water launching with the board, after which the sailing itself comes next. I was therefore very proud of myself and my team of instructors when, after a while, we saw the king glide across the water and walked back onto the beach with a big satisfied smile like all other practitioners after a successful session.
I remember that afterwards he also bought his own equipment and also went kiting on trips abroad, which he then very proudly showed me his footage of.
His enthusiasm must have been contagious because at one point I also had the pleasure of giving the children their first surfing lesson all together, with Queen Mathilde as a proud mum looking on from the beach. I remember there was a lot of fun involved, not only when one of them surfed a nice wave, but also when droll falls were involved.
Prince Emmanuel went a step further and also learnt windsurfing, a water sport he has already currently mastered at a very nice level.
That the king also kept abreast of the latest development was evident when, years later, he inquired about the possibilities of learning to foil as well.
Afterwards, I noticed that King obviously has a very busy schedule, and if you want to play a sport that requires a certain wind strength, you are directly dependent on it. Not easy for anyone, and so certainly not for King. Sometimes he would call me to say that he could come that day or that day and I had to decide, depending on the wind forecast, whether or not the lessons could go ahead.
Fortunately, then, there was Lakeside Paradise where the family could go in case of wind- and waveless days because to wakeboard you don't need wind nor waves.
I gave the king his very first foil lesson there and Prince Emmanuel also turned out to be a talented wakeboarder, he even expressed interest in joining our Tomorrow team.
All in all, I am extremely proud for the honour now bestowed upon us, 2022 marks my 40th year at the beach, Surfers Paradise recently celebrated its 35th anniversary and one of the conditions for becoming a court supplier is that you value quality and service. And this is what we stand for with both our paradises, every class we teach responds to this and every visitor is welcomed and cared for in the same way, and this time was no different. I think the royal family felt like they were on holiday for a while during their visits anyway, and that is and will remain our great goal.
I myself have been giving water sports lessons since I was 15 years old, and what appeals to me most is that we have already made thousands of water sports enthusiasts happy in that casual and passionate way, so in fact now the absolute icing on the cake is the Royal Family.
However, I would like to stress that this is not only my merit. The team from Surfers and Lakeside Paradise did their bit and I would also like to thank the municipal council and all the entrepreneurs of Knokke-Heist because it is also because of them that the royal family regularly descends to our beautiful, clean, safe, and versatile municipality where quality is also a must for everyone.
I think we can all be proud of a kitesurfing King, I don't think there are any countries left in the world where there is a court supplier of water sports and I hope to see them on and off the water for many years to come. The visit to the palace was cordial, and the King took ample time for a chat. He remarked that we were now meeting in a completely different environment, while I noted that our outfits also looked slightly different now. What pleased me even more is that the king is still motivated, definitely in shape, and wants to learn to wingfoil, the very latest watersports trend, in the coming year.
In the evening during the banquet, we then met a lot of other court suppliers and found that we all have one thing in common: passion for what we do."