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Sarah Missiaen

The «Hawaii of the Alps»

Silvaplana
Sarah Missiaen

The «Hawaii of the Alps»

No wind, no waves. A few wafts of mist float across the cold water.

Splash, splash, splash – the paddle evenly parts the smooth surface of the water. With strong strokes Sarah drives the stand-up paddle board over the still water of Lake Silvaplana. Silence. Nothing but silence. No wind, no waves. A few wafts of mist float across the cold water.«I enjoy the quiet of the early morning on the lake,» says Sarah Missiaen, owner of Windsurfing Silvaplana.

Portrait Sarah Missiaen
Windsurfing Silvaplana
«I enjoy the quiet of the early morning on the lake,» says Sarah Missiaen, owner of Windsurfing Silvaplana.

The cool mountain air awakens the sleepy spirit, and with the rising sun, the snow-capped mountain peaks of Piz Corvatsch are reflected in the turquoise water. Almost kitschy. And this still air – doesn't seem like the ideal conditions for an owner of a surf centre, right? «The Maloja wind is still sleeping. It’s not ideal for surfing but all the better for stand-up paddling,» the young manager replies. Sparkling eyes, a wide laugh and long, sun-bleached hair bear witness to the invigorating life at Lake Silvaplana. While others come here only during their leisure time, for Sarah, it is her everyday world. Work and freedom in one. A life in paradise, in the «Hawaii of the Alps». How does one come up with the idea to run a surf centre anyway?

Not love at first sight

Sleepy-eyed figures sip their first coffee of the day while squinting in the morning sun. «They are from the camping ground next-door,» Sarah explains. From the kitchen of the surf restaurant Pappaloù we hear promising clatter. We smell the aroma of freshly brewed coffee as we sit down under a sunshade on the terrace. Our arms feel tired from paddling. In the Pappaloù, Sarah’s brother Steven shows his inventive talent as he serves Argentine style BBQ, cooked on a custom-built grill, as well as Mamma Loù’s cheesecake, baked according to a Polish family recipe.

«Back in the 80s, everyone surfed. Windsurfing experienced a hype. If you were cool, you drove around with a surfboard tied on the roof of your car,» shares Sarah as she indulges in her father’s memories. «There was no other possibility if you wanted to go out on the water.» 30 years ago her father Arnoud, a keen regatta sailor, founded Windsurfing Silvaplana. Already as a child, she spent some time on a surfboard. However, Sarah admits that she only discovered her passion for the sport when she turned 22. Ten years ago she took the leap and took over the surf centre from her father – together with Kayla, her dog and the surf school mascot. Windsurfing, as well as kite surfing and stand-up paddling, are still ‘in.’ And these days, wing surfing is making a comeback. Gliding over the water with only hand-held wings which are not attached to the board feels like flying. Sarah demonstrates for us the appeal of this popular sport.

Juggling ten employees, unexpected rain, the ordering of goods, surfing lessons, the renting business, the online shop, marketing: the everyday work at the surf centre is quite different from spending some down time here. This we learn as the trained hotel manager allows us to have a look behind the scenes. But she has never considered going back to the job she originally trained for. She likes life by the water. Even though, ironically, her role often comes at the expense of her favourite activity: «I only manage to surf around two or three times per season,» the 35-year old says regretfully. «Today is one of those lucky days.» The know-how of its employees is the backbone of the business’s success. Which equipment is best for which surfing level? How do I best teach this or that guest? Boards, riggs, masts, booms – material expertise and fine tuned teaching skills are required knowledge. Sarah acquired her skills as a windsurfing teacher in Magglingen while teaching students of a sports university. In her opinion, sound customer advice is essential for success.

Sarah Missiaen Windsurfing
Lakeside Sarah Missiaen
Kitesurfing in Silvaplana
Kitesurfing in Silvaplana

Lake Sils is an excellent sailing area, with wonderful views and a thermal wind.

The wrong wind

The turquoise-coloured lake between Piz Corvatsch and the Julier pass owes its fame to the Maloja Wind. This steady air current starts around noon and flows with winds of 3 to 6 Beaufort across Lake Silvaplana. Each day. The Maloja wind is actually a ‘wrong’ wind or a ‘night’ wind during the day because, in mountain valleys, winds usually do not flow down but instead up the valley by day. So why doesn’t the Maloja Wind follow the rules? Because the Bergell, with its steep mountain sides that warm up faster in the morning than the air down in the valley, thus creates a warm low over the Maloja pass. Hence, the cool air flows unhindered across the Maloja pass and the Engadin lakes. Much to the joy of the windsurfers who glide across the water with speeds up to 50 mph from May to October.

An active break from the world

After three pancakes garnished with strawberries and two cappuccinos, he makes his appearance. The protagonist. He ruffles the water and sets the colourful sails dancing across the lake. «On time,» Sarah remarks contentedly as she fixes the footstraps on her surfboard by holding the wrench in a tight grip. The wind fills the surf centre with life and it gets busy at the lakeshore and on the water. The young and the old put on wetsuits (in July the lake reaches around 14°C), surfboards line the beach, sails of all sizes are scattered over the lawn. A colourful anthill of equipment, athletes and spectators – busy and yet relaxed. Holding the surfboard on her right and the sail or her left, Sarah walks down to the beach. «This is my life,» she says and nods toward the somehow tranquil turmoil.

«Here I spend the whole summer.» After our visit to the «Hawaii of the Alps” we know that it’s a magic that doesn’t let go of you. Sun, water, beach, casual atmosphere. An active break from the world.
Sarah Missiaen Portrait

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