There are an estimated 50,000 surfers in Switzerland. It's a wild number for a landlocked country, but it starts looking feasible when you delve a bit into the culture.
In Switzerland, before the opening of Alaïa Bay, there were no running waves to surf. There were Citywaves – a form of standing wave tech - in Zurich and Lucerne that have been extremely popular. Various river waves have also been ridden when the conditions are right.
People flocked to the Citywaves because there is such a solid underlying board sports culture in the country. People of all ages in Switzerland love to ski and snowboard, but they also love to skateboard, kiteboard and windsurf, and wakeboard and river surf.
There is even bungee surfing, where a surfer is towed, usually up a river. The Swiss like riding boards, so much so that when Adam Bonvin, the founder of Alaïa Bay, decided to build the facility, he knew the people would come.
The Alaïa Bay facility is a Wavegarden Cove model. This design has quickly become the most popular and most accessible wave pool model in the world. It can provide up to 1,000 waves every hour, and it has several levels. Starting off at the Beginner Lessons, it goes all the way through to Pro and Expert levels, and then the Beast Mode is the most extreme.
The best new concept at Alaï Bay is an 'Air Section' that is the ultimate method of improving a surfers' air game. The air section is mobile and can be placed anywhere in the pool, on the left or the right-breaking wave.
The Swiss Surfing Team competes in the ISA World Surfing Games, and at the last such event (2019), they came 23rd. Things may change now.
Benedek Sarkany is the president of the Swiss Surfing Association and is the National Coach for the Talent and Elite Team. He believes that the board sports culture is an intrinsic element of the large surfing population. It spills over to training. "When we are training in Switzerland, I like to include river surfing, skate sessions, snowboard powder sessions and wave pool surfing," he said. “These other sports are all part of the training package.
"In a country like Switzerland, a facility like Alaïa Bay will introduce the sport of surfing to the masses, so the grassroots element of the sport will grow.
“Now we have a situation where small children of both genders will surf their first wave in a safe environment."
Rachel Bonhote-Mead is an anomaly in the surfing world in that she doesn't surf that much yet wins everything in sight. Rachel is currently in the Swiss Elite Surf Team and is a member of the National Team.
She has won the Swiss Championships six times over the last 10 years and is still the reigning champ. In fact, Rachel has reigned for the previous three years consecutively. She has also competed for the Swiss team at the ISA World Surfing Games five times, and her best result was in Panama in 2013, where she placed 8th.
"Rachel isn't surfing much, but she still wins each time she enters the Swiss Champs," said Bene. "It comes from her solid forehand and a lot of contest experience."
Rachel lives a quick 40 minutes away from Alaïa Bay.
"I will be able to work on my weaknesses, such as my backhand," said Rachel. "Plus, I would also love to learn how to do airs. I just don't have time to work on it when I get to the ocean as I have such limited time. Alaïa Bay will be an invaluable asset to the technical training of Swiss Surfing Athletes that reside in Switzerland," added Rachel. "Luckily for me, I live only 40 minutes away in Verbier, so it is extremely convenient."
Rachel could see a rapid and radical improvement in her air game if she gets going on the air section for a few sessions. That would be the ideal launchpad for practising endless airs until she sticks them.
Similarly, a few sessions in a row on her backhand and she will definitely show a massive improvement on her heel-side surfing.
Where will Swiss surfing go? It has to go up. From 23rd at the world games, what is next?
"Since I'm the national coach, I'm working towards getting us into the top 20 countries," said Bene. "In 2018, we were 24th and in 2019, we placed 23rd. This year we might be 21st, and then in 2022, we might be under 21st place. That's the plan, and with the Alaia Bay facility at our disposal, we might get there even faster."
There are also intangible elements, like team building and camaraderie, that will come into play when the Swiss Surfing Team begin training as a unit at the end of April. A facility that can accommodate the whole team together will be highly beneficial to team building and training.
There will be waves with barrels and waves with air sections. There will be waves with open faces for carving, and coach Bene will be right there. There could be some significant changes for team Switzerland at the ISA World Games, directly related to these better training facilities.