The typical image of Switzerland sees jagged, snow-capped mountains, alpine pastures, and idyllic little villages in which the Heidis and Peters play. With this image in mind, Diccon Bewes created quite a buzz when he marketed the landlocked island as a swim getaway destination.
For the Swiss, swimming and feeling comfortable around water is a given. But for many tourists, it's anything but, with the belief that the glacier-fed lakes must be too cold to enjoy.
With 6% of Europe's freshwater reserves and more than 1500 lakes, Switzerland is actually a water paradise and rightly deserves the epithet of Europe's reservoir.
Further testimony to the Swiss enjoyment of water is that Switzerland was the first landlocked country to win an America's Cup with the Alinghi racing team. And when it comes to rowing, the Swiss aren't too bad either.
It is probably because the Swiss love water so much that you will often find them in warm destinations with beaches during the winter months. From these tropical water destinations, the Swiss brought back windsurfing - a trendy sport back in the 80's and 90's. But in 2008, a Swiss guy visited Maui and had a new vision of water sports in Switzerland: Stand Up Paddle Surfing (SUP).
Now, of course there are many who travel and find things they like in foreign lands - and quite a few have aspirations of bringing these ideas back to their home country. Wine is the best example, but too often the required background and knowledge is missing to make the venture a success. Well, as fate would have it, this was not one of those cases.
Indiana - The Right Guys for the Job
Maurus Strobel has been in the sports business since 2001. More exactly, he has been in the board business. Indiana, as American as it sounds, is a Swiss skateboard company situated in the rural town of Wald and has been producing skateboards for over 20 years. With experience making and marketing skateboards, Maurus and his partner Christof Peller knew what it would take to launch Indiana SUP boards in Switzerland.
SUP Meets Mobility
By 2010, they launched their first collection of hand-finished quality boards. Making a sport popular which only few people know requires a solid strategy. Working with different lidos and beaches, the folks at Indiana set up rental stations where people could rent before they bought, or simply rent and never own.
People can rent for an hour, a longer block of time, or even the season. The advantage of renting is that you can switch boards and not worry about repair or transport. It is the water sport equivalent of Mobility (car sharing).
SUP Outside My Door
I became fascinated in SUP last year when I saw a group of people practicing on the Limmat in Höngg - right outside my window. Parents and children were standing on their boards, cruising across the river with relative ease. If a child can do it, I thought, so can I. I even saw people on Lake Zurich and I knew I needed to try this sport.
Having recently learned to ski, I was quite sure my balance was good in order to make this happen and having paddling experience from canoeing and kayaking in Canada, I knew that handling the paddle would come naturally.
Let's Go Surfin' Now...
On a mid-August Sunday, I made my way down to Seebad Enge and told them I would like to rent a SUP board. The first question was whether I had made a reservation. Apparently, this sport has really taken off. I had not, but only wanting to go out for an hour, I was in luck. The next question was if I had ever done SUP before. Again, here I responded with a negative. The clerk expressed little worry on her face, which was calming. I was sure it would be fun, though I planned on spending the majority of the hour in the water.
With the board in the water, I got on kneeling. With 142 liters of displacement, the 9’6” board is incredibly stable. The wide standing pads were comfortable on my bare knees and gripped well. You're not supposed to stand while navigating out of the swimming area, and I’m happy for the fear of falling with all of the swimmers looking at me.
Cruising out of the swimming area was simple. Once I was out on the open lake I knew I needed to stand. The waves were very gentle and hardly noticeable, nonetheless I knew what standing in a canoe was like and thought I'd rock the board quite a bit. One, two, three and there I was standing. That was simple. Now to start moving. The fiberglass adjustable paddle is easy to use and ideal for SUP boarders of all heights. The slight bend in the blade allows for optimal propulsion and for one to quickly gain some speed.
This is easy!
Once you start to move forwards it's a little similar to cross-country skiing in that you quickly feel confident and just when you go to do something you fall off. Fortunately the water is warm and quite soft. The board went about 5 meters away, which could be avoided with a leash, like you’d have on a traditional surfboard. My first fall into the water had me a little worried though — how long am I going to be struggling to get back on the board?
I swam up to the board, reached across and with a quick pull was astonishingly back on the board. Very easy. This means more fun. When I asked Maurus about it, he explained that it has to do with the design of the board. The board is in the shape of a classic longboard, which displaces a lot of water and lies quite flat in the water.
After an hour of paddling, I was exhausted. The slight movement of the board means that your stabilizing muscles are constantly working. The health benefits are huge too, as Maurus explained. By strengthening the core stabilizing muscles, you can improve your posture and coordination as well as build up the muscles around your joints.
For runners, skiers, and boarders, this is excellent. For those wishing to take it to the next level, Seebad Enge even offers a yoga class on paddle boards!
From Switzerland to the Atlantic
I’m not sure that I’m ready for yoga on a SUP, but I am sure that the SUPs from Indiana are an amazing find. I hope that when I’m good enough, I can plan an adventure similar to Thomas Oschwald, who paddle boarded 1200KM from Switzerland to the Atlantic going down the Rhone and via the French canal system into the Garonne and entered the Atlantic in Bordeaux.
SUP as long as you can
If you think that this article has come out a little late, don’t be too mistaken. You can standup paddle board at Enge until mid October and for advanced boarders, you can go all year round, as long as we can avoid another Seegfrörni. Why not get out there and try it out before winter hits again and buildup your agility for the slopes. Without a doubt standup paddle boarding will surely take off even more in the coming years.
Just a little FYI for everyone planning on heading out on the water. According to Swiss nautical laws, you can go to a maximum of 300 meters into a body of water without a lifejacket. Venturing further into the lake means you need to have a lifejacket with you, or potentially face a hefty fine.
Then, check out this trailer of "That First Glide", the first documentary about SUP: