Uncovering Lake Surfing in Landlocked Switzerland

Jason Lock

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Updated 48d ago

Surfing in landlocked countries sure makes us hoot. What can be more captivating than seeing a group of frothers score on their home turf, hundreds of miles from the ocean? And if it's set against the stunning Swiss alps, then even better.

And that's how it goes down in Switzerland. Freezing fresh water shredding in Lake Geneva, a deep water lake on the northern side of the alps that spans both France and Switzerland. Cold? You betcha, air temps sit around the frigid 5 degrees C mark with the water about the same too.

© 2022 - Valentin Rey

Photographer and Swiss home-bod Valentin Rey has been surfing there for seven or so years, keeping an eye on the local wind conditions to get the juice pumping out there.

We checked in with Valentin recently to talk through all things Lake Geneva and the burgeoning surf community that's breaking out, too.

Lake Surfing in Switzerland isn’t something we see a lot of, how did you discover it?
That is true. This is off the grid. People and even surfers are still shocked when they see waves even in the Mediterranean Sea, let alone the lakes of Switzerland. They don't believe you. I think that would be the main reason why it is something we don't see a lot of. People just don't believe you.

There aren't many occasions to surf and it is mostly during winter-time. That means cold water surfing. Water temperature is around 4-6 celsius and the air temperature hardly reaches 5 celsius. Add the howling winds and that is enough to demotivate most people.

Not many surfers are ready to put on a thick wetsuit and paddle out for what the world would deem 'poor' waves. If you watch the lake during a stormy day, you will quickly understand that it must be surfable somewhere along the coast. That is how I discovered it seven-years-ago. 

If you don't work, you could easily surf 20 times a year if you have a really good knowledge of the coast.

Little grindy, wind-swelly, almost-slabby lake session.

Little grindy, wind-swelly, almost-slabby lake session.

© 2022 - Valentin Rey

What’s the surfing community like there?
A lot of people "surf" in Switzerland and it is a growing community. Like all around the world, surfing is becoming part of everyday life even if we are landlocked. You can see surf related stuff on a lot of billboards. It is mostly to promote holidays in far flung places with palm trees and warm weather.

But the most devoted ones slowly realise that it is possible to surf natural waves not too far from home and go lake surfing there's only a handful of people that take it up though. When we find a new spot, we are almost 100 per cent sure that we are the first one to surf it

I often go surfing with Arthur Spycher, Tom Borlin and Mathieu Fleury, who are shapers and owners of Galta Surfboards in Lausanne. The lake's coast is like a virgin place to us. There are points, rivermouths and reefs that are waiting to be discovered.

Every good swell is an opportunity to explore. When we find a new spot, we are almost 100 per cent sure that we are the first one to surf it. That feeling is quite unique. The coast is supposed to have public access but most of the land is private, sadly. We have to find ways to reach the waves when there might be a good spot on the other side of the fence. Most of the time you get skunked but when you find a good one, then it is worth it.

Arthur on the tools.

Arthur on the tools.

© 2022 - Valentin Rey

What equipment are people riding?
Surf anything, ride anything is the spirit. Arthur is always riding his Mini-Simmons, which seems to be the perfect tool out there. As we are talking about fresh water, extra volume is always welcome. The waves aren't very powerful but they break in shallow waters and it is very common to ding our boards. We try to bring our old boards and give them a second life in fresh water.

© 2022 - Valentin Rey

And what about the conditions, what kind of wind swell are people looking for?
We are looking for wind, coming from any direction. The stronger the better even if some spots don't need the storm of the year to break. If there is a huge storm hitting the Atlantic coast, you can be sure there will be wind and waves the day after.

There is a complex topography around the Lake. We have the Alps and Jura Mountains that channel the winds and accelerate it on the lake's surface. But it also protects some spots from the storm. We had a few sessions when one side of the lake was a complete mess while the other side was almost glassy [laughs] Every storm is different. There is no tide but the lake level is controlled. During spring, the level is lower in order to welcome water from the melting of the snow. So{item there are new opportunities. 

© 2022 - Valentin Rey

How did you get started in surf photography?
Surfing and taking pictures are my passions. I wish I could do it more often. Waves are such an amazing natural phenomenon, being able to surf and shoot waves in a landlocked country always amazes me. Plus, you can't beat that backdrop with snowcapped mountains.

Sharing the stoke of finding new waves at home with such a good group of friends is inspiring and makes me want to document it in the best way possible. We are frothing for the next big storm while most of the people want sunny days and warmer temperatures.

Do people surf in any of the other lakes around the country?
This is Lake Geneva, but Lake Neuchatel can offer good surf too. The are a couple of well known spots there. There are waves on Lake Constance for sure too but good surf only last a few hours and you need a good local knowledge to score. We have enough to explore on Lake Geneva.

© 2022 - Valentin Rey

© 2022 - Valentin Rey