Lake Fantastic

Daydreaming of old haunts from his home on Maui, the accessibility of downwinding meant that Michi Schweiger could finally indulge his fantasy of a long and languid Lake Garda downwind run in the company of friends.

Words: Michi Schweiger
Photos: Ronny Kiaulehn

It is always mind blowing to me how things come together when you least expect them to. My family and my windsurf background connect me very closely with Lake Garda. Especially with the infamous stretch between Torbole and Malcesine, which is an epicenter for all wind sports in landlocked central Europe. For anybody who doesn’t know about the wind magic that appears there, at its best you experience a northerly wind called Pelèr in the morning hours, which dies off around midday and turns into a southerly wind called Ora. The area is surrounded by steep cliff faces, idyllic towns and an Italian “bella vita” lifestyle.

While my roots sit deeply within windsurfing, I have always kept an open mind, which eventually got me into SUP paddling and more recently foiling and winging, enjoying every one of these sports whenever the conditions are right. Part of my endeavors in stand-up paddling were heavily focused on downwind paddling, which was especially popular on Maui where I still live with my family. When foiling resurfaced in its various different applications it pretty quickly became apparent that foiling would dramatically increase water time in any kind of conditions.

Kai Lenny very much paved the way and had us all frothing to learn it. In its early stages it seemed unachievable, for many… but we soon all realized that, along with the improvements in equipment, it was within most people’s grasp. Downwind foiling with a paddle (or no paddle for that matter) seemed to be farthest out of reach but, after putting some time in, more and more people were able to have fun on Maui, which offers ideal conditions for it. Early on, it required quite some wind to get our shortboards going, and you had to be on top of your game and read the ocean right to avoid coming off the foil.

In the meantime, Dave Kalama made it his mission to work on gear that would make it easier to get up on the foil, opening up the sport to an even bigger crowd. The trend toward longer, more narrow boards in combination with higher aspect foils opened the barn doors completely, and very quickly we all started developing gear along those parameters. A lot of our gear was catering to windy downwind conditions, like we see on Maui, but the wind threshold started to go down further and further.

In a different corner of the world, flatwater pump foiling started to happen and popularity, with bigger, large wingspan foils that can be pumped around and dock-started at any lake. While working on pump foils, it became apparent that they also bring down the low wind threshold for downwind foiling with a paddle even further. Starting out of entirely glassy water conditions became a tangible possibility…

And it is here where I can connect back to “how things come together”. While being slightly addicted to downwind foiling during the summer months on Maui summer, Lake Garda always stayed in my mind and I started daydreaming about doing downwind runs from Torbole to Malcesine, and vice versa.

In September 2023 I had the chance to be in Lake Garda again. I got together my Naish Hover DW and one of the bigger sizes in our HA foil range (the 1840) to give it a go. It wasn’t hard to convince my local friends Nik and Dani Slijk, Ronny and Pietro Kiaulehn and Patrick Lombardi to come along and give it a go too. Hard to pass on an opportunity to surf wind chop for miles and miles in the middle of Europe.

And so we did. We launched in the morning hours from Circolo Vela Torbole at Conca D’Oro and followed the flow of the Pelèr, which meandered towards the western walls of Limone and then eventually swung back towards the east coast of Malcesine, giving me a chance to enjoy a beautiful sightseeing tour on the run downwind. With the longer board and the high aspect foils it was surprisingly easy to get going shortly after leaving Torbole. Riding along the steep cliffs at Ponale, cruising with the wind, through the kitesurfers who were also enjoying the morning breeze, and passing the picturesque town of Limone was quite a treat.

Around Limone it became apparent that the wind was favoring the east side of the lake towards Malcesine, and riding the wind swell while turning left brought us right in front of the medieval castle in Malcesine that sits right on the edge of the water. In the meantime, the east side of the lake also got the sun rays shining up over the crest of the mountains which was the icing on the cake – an amazing and (literally) heart-warming sight.

Towards the castle the wind started to lighten significantly but the bumps that the wind created kept running south, while the texture on the water changed to what in surfing terms would be called “glass”. We passed the town with its little walkways that go all the way down to the lake, past the ferry station that connects many of the small towns along the lake and turned into the bay towards Brenzone using the last glides that were left from the Pelèr wind.

This was no longer a dream anymore, but a reality that can now be repeated. Next stop is hopefully one of the winter Pelèr days, where the mountains surrounding Lake Garda are snow-capped and the wind will be able to carry me even further south… who knows, maybe even all the way to the south end of the lake, where there are bigger and bigger swells to ride.

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