This Was By Far The Best Surf Contest The Mountainous Nation Of Switzerland Has Ever Seen - Stab Mag
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Alaïa Bay is tucked beside the Rhône river, which is fed by the Rhône glacier in the Alps and runs for 813 kilometers through some of the world’s most fantastic vineyards before draining into the French Mediterranean. It is very pretty. All Photos: Alaïa Bay

This Was By Far The Best Surf Contest The Mountainous Nation Of Switzerland Has Ever Seen

The Alaïa Open Winter Cup was snow-covered and majestic.

news // Dec 6, 2021
Words by Brendan Buckley
Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s difficult to predict what’ll happen at a surf contest in a Swiss wave pool in mid-December. 

You know you’ll get waves, and you can thank the WaveGarden Cove design for that. You can be fairly certain it’ll be cold, which you can attribute to the sun focusing most of its efforts on burning Australian people at that time of year. And you can will it into becoming a good time by booking a bunch of DJs for the weekend. 

However, when it comes to the actual surfing, who knows? 

The Alaïa Open Winter Cup hoped to draw a few big names with a $70k purse, but there was some fine print. You’d have to finish in the top 3 to see any money. The $10k reward for the champions of the marquee divisions — Open Men’s and Open Women’s — was really $7K cash and $3K in prizes. By third place, it came down to $2.8k cash and $1.2k in prizes. 

Switzerland ain’t cheap, so it was hard to know how many of Europe’s best would take the risk and show up. Were the heats going to be filled with pros or people struggling to get to their feet? As nearly 200 people showed up to compete, the answer was both and the result was incredible. 

The two-day competition ran from snowy dawn to beautiful twilight, when the stadium-lit pool continued to churn out waves as music played and the general public showed up to party. During the day, people jumped out of helicopters in wingsuits. Circus performers showed up and entertained. The mountains, just by existing, continued to stun. It was unlike any surf contest I’d ever seen, or even heard of. 

And there was some proper good surfing. 

The best I saw came from Frenchman Justin Becret (he’ll be on the CT within the next three years) and the Basqueland’s Odriozola brothers, Hans and Kai, who’s father Josema owns Wavegarden. Safe to say they know the wave pretty well. These three were able to go top-to-bottom while everyone else appeared to be further out on the face. They also put that extra 15% into every turn and found air sections where others could not. However, it was a Brazilian contingent — led by Franklin Serpa, Michel Roque, and event-winner Pedro Menezes — who stayed consistent and made it count in the Finals. 

And on the women’s side, Maud Le Car found her form in the semifinals and never looked back. Nadia Erostarbe, Ainara Arymat and Lucia Martino all deserve shouts here as well. They were doing big turns, and big combos, and the judges are crowd were eating it up.

While freesurfing prior to the event, I shared sessions with good surfers who’d moved to the region from Morocco, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Indonesia. Most of them had left good waves to chase better wages. Watching them reconnect with their passion was heartwarming, even though we were all shivering. And that was the coolest thing about the experience — it felt like you were watching surf culture come to Swisserland, and fuse with all that is great here, to create something entirely new.  

Maybe the Winter Cup ramps up the performance side of things in years to come. Maybe it becomes even more of a party. It’ll probably do both. No matter what, it’s clear that the Winter Cup is here to stay. “Next year’s tournament will be bigger and better,” promised Alaia Bay’s founder, Adam Bonvin. 

Keep an eye out for a full recap of my experience competing in the event on Stab Premium later this week. 

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