The number of people enjoying water sports in the Belgian North Sea has swelled to record levels in recent years; nearly 30,000 people are now members of a club, leading to the current water sports zones becoming overcrowded.
Figures from Wind and Watersport Vlaanderen (WWSV) show that in 2021 there were more water sports enthusiasts in Belgium than ever before: the number of WWSV members rose from 25,200 in 2018 to 28,900 in 2021. But there is still a lot of growth margin compared to neighbouring countries.
"Water sports on our Belgian coast are more popular than ever. We need space for that," said Minister of the North Sea Vincent Van Quickenborne in a press release. "Despite the fact that our small piece of North Sea is very busy, we manage to provide enough space for various activities."
"We are now doing the same for water sports. Together with our partners and the coastal municipalities, we have created more than 3 km of extra water sports zone," he said. "It is a healthy foundation for water sports clubs to grow even more."
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In response to the growing popularity, Van Quickenborne has considered extending the existing water sports zones in every coastal municipality, giving enthusiasts "extra wind in their sails."
This has already been implemented in eight of the nine coastal municipalities with space for water sports, extending them from 5.9 km to 9.2 km in summer. The municipalities of Koksijde, De Panne and Bredene have recently also started working with a winter/summer plan, which will add another 1.2 km water sports zone in winter.
Van Quickenborne envisages adding even more space as consultations for further expansion are still ongoing. "If water sports enthusiasts cannot use the necessary space, it is not only to the detriment of their experience but also their safety," said Alain Lescrauwaet, the director of the WWSV.
"If water sports enthusiasts grow in numbers, extra space is really necessary to guarantee a safe water sports zone," he added. "More space in times when water sports are on the rise is therefore definitely a crucial evolution."