Switzerland: the world capital of landlocked surfing

July 2, 2021 | Surfing
Switzerland: a landlocked country with over 45,000 surfers | Photo: SSA

Switzerland is a landlocked country. However, the European nation has one of the most active surfing communities in the world.

Today, you can ride a wave in the most unusual and unexpected places. Surfing is no longer a sport that is exclusively practiced in the ocean.

The planet has many types of surfable waves, both naturally and artificially produced in open and enclosed bodies of water.

In Switzerland, local surfers ride river waves and have already built their own wave pool.

The river surf season runs from May to August, and the Reuss River is one of the go-to Swiss surf spots.

Switzerland is far from the top of the list of great places to go surfing.

There are surely as many cliches about the country as there are chalets in the Swiss Alps. But there's more to Switzerland than the usual stereotypes.

River surfing: Switzerland has spectacular rideable standing waves | Photo: SSA

A Dedicated Surfing Community

Strangely enough, the percentage of the Swiss population that surfs is one of the highest in the world - there are at least 45,000 of them living here.

So, Switzerland is one of 49 landlocked countries like Botswana, Kyrgyzstan, and the Vatican, with no access whatsoever to the ocean or a sea.

But on the other hand, it's got 1,500 lakes and at least 65,000 kilometers of rivers and streams.

The surfboard market is booming, with sales going up on average of 30 percent every year - and this is only the beginning.

Like Gerry Lopez once said, "surf is where you find it."

Everyone's perfect wave is different, so if you look hard enough, you'll end up finding yours somewhere hidden in a Swiss creek.

Switzerland: the country's surfing capital is Bremgarten | Photo: SSA

River Surfing: The Swiss Boom

Bene Sarkany is the president of the Swiss Surfing Association (SSA).

In 2013, he joined the organization because he believed someone had to set up a structure for all the surfers riding artificial waves, river waves, and wake surfing.

"Until 2013, the SSA was just focused on ocean surfing, and so they called me and invited me to run the landlocked surfing section," explains Sarkany.

"Today, it is the fastest-growing discipline within the Swiss Surfing Association with eight people responsible for everything in the country."

In seven years, the Swiss river surfing scene exploded, and Bene Sarkany was elected SSA president.

He's been surfing for over two decades, both in the ocean and in the river.

Today, the small village of Bremgarten, just 23 kilometers from Zurich in the Canton of Aargau, is the beating heart and the capital of the Swiss surf scene.

"I think what's special about the Bremgarten wave is that people are surfing this place since the 1960s," adds Sarkany.

"It's user-friendly, so you can even start surfing here."

"People are starting surfing here, and then they go to the ocean, or they even only surf here and nowhere else."

"This is surfing for them, and the cool thing is that they can stand up slowly and just do it again and again and again."

Switzerland: the Reuss River is one of the best surf spots in the country | Photo: SSA

More Riding Time

Vincent Schneider is one of the most talented Swiss surfers of his generation. He won the national wave pool title in 2019.

"If you compare the time on the board, actually one day in the river is about like a week in the ocean," underlines Schneider.

"The board is kind of the same, the movements are kind of the same, and you're doing the same maneuvers. It's just a little bit more about the timing."

"You don't have that much time for a bottom turn. It has to be really quick. You have to be quicker in the river than on the ocean."

"On the river, you basically fulfill the dream of an endless wave - your legs will stop you at some time."

Standing waves are a curious phenomenon.

As opposed to waves in the ocean that move through the water towards the shore, in a river, the wave stays in one place.

It's created by water moving over a specifically shaped part of the riverbed.

Technically, it's possible to surf a static wave forever if you're good enough, but surfers who do it all the time - like Vincent Schneider - say even an iron man's legs will turn to rubber after anything more than a 30-second ride.

So, if you're about to take up river surfing, start doing some squats - you'll need to be fit to ride these spectacular, ever-flowing, liquid slopes.