In 2021, we supported adventurer Ivan Vaquera Ureta on one of his toughest challenges yet. Vaquera Ureta decided to take on the Swiss SUP Eco Challenge. During this challenge all big lakes of Switzerland are crossed with a SUP and the transport from lake to lake has to be ecological. In this article you will learn who Ivan Vaquera Ureta is, how he came up with such an idea and if he is capable of crossing all five big lakes of Switzerland.
Who is Ivan Vaquera Ureta
Switzerland has a myriad of lakes and a stunning scenery. From small alpine lakes to very large extensions of water such as Lake Maggiore, Lake Geneva or Lake Constance to mention a few. I am originally from the Bilbao, Bask Country, North Spain, and living by the sea I have been always attracted by the ocean and its energy. However despite this closeness to the sea, I have never learnt to surf there. In 2002 I moved to Lima, Peru. Living in Miraflores, just in front of the Pacific Ocean getting ready to start surfing was a matter of time. So, I started to interact with the sea and with the waves there.
After living 4 years in Peru I moved to Switzerland and instead of an ocean I had a lake close to my house. SUP was not known here in 2006-2007. In 2010 I discovered that a French guy named Yann Hamonick opened a SUP rental in Lugano and I visited him twice. This sport captured me since the first time I hammered the water with the paddle. Then I moved to Geneva and I kept on paddling there on heavy plastic boards. Few years later I moved to the Sultanate of Oman and I carried on paddling on the Indian ocean. After one year there, in 2014 I returned to Switzerland, specifically to Minusio a small town on Lake Maggiore and here is were everything has been boomed since then.
How did Ivan get into paddling?
I paddle all year long around 4-5 days a week and I find Stand Up Paddling one of the most complete and less damaging sports I have done so far. In the past I did a lot of rock climbing, mountain running and speed skating at competitive levels, and many times I have undergone injuries. In this case, SUP allows me to paddle and train at a high level without having to be worried about injuries.
Like many others I started paddling 12.6 per 30 inflatable boards but I was looking for more speed and performance. So ended up purchasing my first rigid boards a bit randomly until the time when I discovered Sunova. In the first years I was covering longer and longer distances. Acquiring and refining the technique and the knowledge of how to read the lakes properly. Being in the Alps weather conditions and winds change rapidly. In a single session you may have to face several wind directions and gusts.
The daring idea
I remind going up to Italy for a Capuccino and return covering up to 35 kms with an inflatable. These solo experiences grew and in 2016 I flew to Scotland to do the Loch Ness crossing. I started from Fort Augustus Northwards with the intention of finishing in Lochend. The upwind and the current were so strong and I managed to paddle up to Drummnadrochit. There I stopped and packed the board. My first international solo adventure was a failure from that point of view, but I learnt few things! My second “big” adventure was the Lake Maggiore crossing. 55 kms between Switzerland and Italy. I did it with a 14 footer inflatable board. I departed at 3 am in the middle of the night and the first 3 hours alone in the dark were quite funny. The wind kicked in and I was “surfing” the black water. That was quite stressful. I had to stop several times and at the end I completed the crossing in about 10 hours. The second time I tried the crossing I did it in 8 hours. The last time, this year (2021) in 6 hours averaging nearly 9 kmh…you learn.
Two years ago I had in mind the Swiss SUP eco-challenge. I wanted to cross all major lakes with an inflatable board and commuting from lake to lake with ecological means (trains or buses). A crazy adventure which was not tried before. The first year, I cancelled the idea because of Covid. 2021 had to be the year. I knew that It was a complicated trip with regards to logistics, so I needed great gear to go with and 6 or 7 free days. In spring I started contacting sponsors to support me. I decided to contact reacha because I needed a light and reliable cart to bring all my stuff. Thanks to Michaela who trusted me since the first moment!
In June I decided that my attempt should start the third week of July. After weeks of rain and floods the weather looked better and then it was my turn to start according to plan!
The Swiss SUP Eco Challenge
During my train trips I used to drink, eat and rest as much as possible. I arrived to Kreuzlingen and walked down to the lake. I got all my stuff ready and started paddling at around 12:00 pm. The lake conditions were very good and I covered 26 kms down to Arbon where I stopped to sleep. In this second stage I was quite aware about the distance and about pulling so much weight on the water, but once the board was launched I was able of getting a constant speed of 6.3-6.5 kmh. Packing and transporting everything on the reacha SPORT was crucial in this trip. This second stage showed to me that logistics were the most important part of my trip. The gap between success and failure. One hour before arriving to destination I used to checked my phone to book a hotel. This late-minute approach proved right logistically speaking and gave me enough freedom to plan according to the context.
Day 3. Lake Zürich
Every day before started my day I checked several times the wind direction to make sure I was not about to be paddling headwind. It worked well in Bodensee. For lake Zürich I did the same and that’s the reason I moved from Arbon by train to Zürich instead of Schmerikon. I arrived to the train station at around 10:00 after covering 100 kms and walked to the lake.
I got all my gear ready and launched my attempt. Another 36 kms were awaiting ahead of me. A soft breeze was pushing me all the time. I stopped once to eat and drink. Arriving to Rapperswil I was sure I would have arrived safely to Schmerikon. In arriving to Schmerikon I walked up the hill to reach a great place to rest: Frohe Aussicht in Uznach.
Day 4. Lake Luzern
I ran downhill with all my stuff packed in the reacha SPORT, but I was not fast enough to catch the next train. I lost nearly 1 hour until I caught the next train from Schmerikon direction Luzern. I arrived mid-day after 80 kms by train and 2 changes. I walked from the train station to the Transports Museum where I got all gear ready to launch and start paddling lake Luzern. That day I paddled 25 kms from Luzern to Brunnen. I the first section I had some crosswind. I did a section of 6 kms drafting a sailboat, that was nice. I have good memories of lake Luzern.
Back in 2019 I finished in second place at the 42 kms race in Buochs. Finally I arrived to Brunnen and had a good rest. During dinner I fantasized with a crazy and ambitious plan for the following day: Covering the 10 kms between Brunnen and Altdorf; take a train to Thun and cross Thunersee and why not…try to cross lake Brienz to end it all. The thought was there but I thought it was not possible at the end.
I woke up very early in the morning and started paddling towards Altdorf. The lake was glassy and turquoise. Beautiful! In arriving to Altdorf I struggled a bit finding an exit to the lake. The previous week there were a lot of floods and the lake was closed. Somehow I exited the lake and packed all. I ran with my reacha SPORT to the train station, bought food and drinks and caught the next train which arrived 5 minutes later!
I started a long trip from Altdorf to Thun after changing in Zürich and Bern! Nearly 200 kms by train and 3 hours later I got to Thun. I decided to start there because the wind forecast said that some wind would have pushed me towards Interlaken. I bought food and walked from the train station to the lake. Second board pumping of the day! I paddled the next 16 kms downwind surfing with my 25 kilos. I arrived to Interlaken West where I booked my hotel right on the beach. It was 16 pm and I discover that a bus was departing towards Interlaken in 15 minutes.
Different means of transport, always accompanied by the reacha bicycle trailer
I deflated the board and got all my gear on the Reacha and rushed to the bus station. After 15 minutes I was heading to Interlaken East to try the crossing of Brienzersee. My crazy idea was working! I dropped in Ringennberg and walked down to the lake. Third board inflation of the day! I had in front of me another 12 kms to cover up to Brienz. I had good overall conditions with some headwind. I arrived to Brienz at 19:00. I deflated the board again, packed all my gear and rushed to the restaurant to have a big meal! But the day was not yet finished. After the dinner I went to Brienz train station and took a train back to Interlaken East. From there another 5 kms walking to my hotel in Interlaken West.
“Thanks reacha for this! It was full moon, and even though it was a crazy day I was full of energy. I arrived to the hotel at 23.00 after some 250 kms of trains and buses, three inflations and three deflations and 38 kms in three different lakes. "
Day 5. Lake Geneva - From Montreux to Morges
After the crazy day I should have gone to Lake Neuchatel, but it was closed because of the floods. So I took the train from Interlaken to Montreux. The BIG lake of this tour was waiting me at the end. I was a bit concerned about the dimensions of this lake. I lived 2 years in Geneva and when you drive along the coast you realize how big is this lake. After 3 hours of trains (150 kms) and 2 changes (Bern and Lausanne) I arrived to Montreux.
I rushed to the lake, inflated the board, folded the Reacha and started paddling towards Lausanne. After 30 minutes I was right in the middle of the lake. What and experience. It was extremely hot and calm. I was nearly alone as sailboats were at harbour. My phone switched off because of the heat! I was passing by Lausanne and started to see Morges. I sat on the board, booked my hotel and arrived at 17:00 pm and after paddling 33 kms. It was a very tiring day. My paddling routine was to keep a rhythm of a minimum of 6kms/h. At the end, after days of pulling 25 kgrs I felt comfortable. I used to sip water or hydrating liquids every km (nearly every 8 minutes) so I was always hydrated. I used to eat every 10 kms.
Day 6. Final day
I had to admit I was a bit worried about this last day: I accumulated a lot of effort over the previous days, I had 42 kms ahead of me and the weather forecast was looking bad (showers and wind). I walked from the hotel to the sailing club and saw the flags pointing towards Geneva. I thought it was a good sign. I inflated the board and got ready. I started paddling and after 5 minutes I realised that it was not tailwind what I would have but crosswind pushing me towards the Swiss coast.
I paddled 12 kms non stop almost with one arm. The hands started to hurt and I had to tap my fingers. I kept on paddling and a short shower started. As the wind stopped a bit I sat on the board to eat. But 2 minutes later the wind from the French alps picked up again, so I had to start paddling again to avoid going towards the Swiss coast instead of going parallel to the French coast. After 22 kms I saw the jet d’eau! Geneva was there, still 20 kms ahead. I had to put more tape on my fingers. As I was approaching to Geneva lots of motorboats were on the water. Lots of waves and wind escorted me to the end. I saw the Tropical corner 1 km ahead and said, yes, this is done! I arrived to Geneva fully accomplished. I deflated the last time my board, mounted my reacha, packed all on it and walked to Geneva city center to celebrate with a great hotel and dinner!
As a conclusion, it is clear that for these types of adventures you need a lot of previous training. I normally paddle between 2000 and 2500 kms a year. Apart from that, choosing the best possible gear is decisive to accomplish complicated expeditions from a logistic point of view. Thanks reacha for putting the wheels to this adventure!