Landlocked – surfing in Switzerland

Surfing in Switzerland. Photo courtesy Landlocked.

By Phil Jarratt

When I lived and worked on the surf-rich south-west coast of France 20 years ago, one of the joys of summer was the influx of the rabidly-stoked holiday warriors from the north. (Joke.)

Mostly from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where there are ocean coasts and occasional rideable waves, these happy campers flocked to the numerous surf camps set up by their countrymen (with some French assistance) all over les Landes and the Basque Coast. Some could surf, some couldn’t, but it didn’t really matter. While we sometimes regretted their arrival, their enthusiasm and their sense of fun was infectious.

Occasionally in those days we’d also get an influx of Scandinavians, and even more unlikely, from the landlocked countries of Eastern Europe. And once in a blue moon, a surfer or two from mountainous Switzerland. These were usually resort surfers – all-round athletes who divided their time between the Alps and land or boat-based surf adventures in the tropics.

But who knew that today Switzerland is allegedly home to more than 45,000 surfers who not only travel to surf, but, depending on the season, can be found riding any one of numerous standing waves or the occasional wind swell on the country’s many rivers and lakes. When the rivers aren’t flowing and the wind’s not blowing, there are two artificial standing waves open to the public, as well as two Wave Garden Cove wave parks in the works.The sport is blowing up so much that one of Zurich’s two largest action sports shops sells more surfboards than snowboards. There’s even a growing community of local shapers and a national surf film festival!

I know all of this courtesy of my friend and erstwhile colleague at Quiksilver, Dave Mailman, a multi-lingual surfer and snowboarder who has lived in France for more than 25 years, and is currently working with a Swiss team on the production of Landlocked, a web series (and planned full-length film) about the trials and tribulations of being a surfer in Switzerland.

The show stars two budding surfer-shapers, Valentin Milius and Esteban Caballero, accompanied by their faithful gonzo photojournalist Dom Daher. This unlikely trio takes viewers along for the ride as they crisscross a unique surf nation in search of their own perfect wave. Along the way, they introduce you to the present-day movers and shakers, and the history of Swiss surfing with a little help from Dave Mailman, who narrates their adventures.

While the figure of 45,000 surfers in Switzerland appears to have come from repeated claims by vested interests, rather than actual evidence, or a head count, the producers have used it to manufacture further unlikely statistics, such as that there are more surfers per square metre than there are in California, or that Switzerland has more surfers per square kilometre than Australia.

Why they are so desperate to prove there are lots of surfers there, I don’t know, especially when my mate Dave spends much of the narration talking up the quality of the Swiss surfing experience. If it’s that good, why don’t they want to keep it to themselves? Or is it just a small band of hardy watermen, yodelling together by the campfire while they drink their gluwein, wishing they had some company?

So, is there surf in Switzerland? Judging by the trailers I watched this week, no, not really. But they sure have a lot of fun with what they’ve got, and visiting heroes like Jeremy Flores, Michel Bourez and Kai Lenny all give it glowing testimonials.Oh, and foiling is big there and everyone likes it!

*Turtles secret dungeon meeting*

I was surprised and honoured to be invited to the 10th anniversary special awards presentation of the Noosa Turtles last week, held appropriately in a secret dungeon within the Netanya Noosa complex, close enough to Providore to yell for a coffee refill.

Surprised because this seniors ocean swimming club of highly selective and limited membership strives to keep its numerous good works for the community under the radar, all being shy retiring types who need publicity like a fish needs a bicycle. But Turtle numero uno King Bob Wood, himself a professional spruiker for the travel industry in his working years, is a different kettle of fish, to further tangle the analogy.

King Bob insisted that the media be invited, and there it was, albeit in its lowliest form.

Over splendid rounds of coffee and croissants, bartered for a limited edition 10thanniversary Turtles tee shirt, King Bob addressed his subjects at length (yawn) and presented them all with a tee shirt and a cap. It should be noted that the assembled media missed out on this largesse.Other than keeping themselves from draining the seniors healthcare sector by swimming the length of Main Beach three times a week, we still don’t know exactly what good works for the community the Turtles have done or are contemplating, but they must be many. All will be revealed in this column upon receipt of an anniversary tee shirt (L) and cap.

In the meantime, well done, Turtles. Keep up the good works!