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Germany

Hanging Ten In Munich, Germany’s Surfing Capital

The standing wave of Munich’s Eisbach River has encouraged a lively surf scene – and a new niche industry along with it. Some of the city’s river riders are starting to make a name for themselves outside of Germany as well.

Surfer on Munich's Eisbach River
Surfer on Munich's Eisbach River
Christian Helten

MUNICH -- Things go pretty quickly with Tao Schirrmacher. His surf board glides smoothly across the water as he jumps and turns. One maneuver succeeds another, at a speed that makes him stand out. And less than 15 minutes later, Tao is standing back in the parking lot behind the art museum peeling off his Neoprene wetsuit.

Tao's just come from a meeting at the agency where he works as a freelance industrial designer -- he just wanted to get a little surfing in before going home to work on another project: the repair kits he sells other Eisbach River surfers. These are small white cans with the words "Big Ding" printed on them. A ding is a dent in a surfboard. Damage to surfboards is frequent in Munich because they keep hitting up against the stone wall at river's edge.

Tao stuffs his wetsuit into the trunk of his VW Polo, and heads home to fill some polyester resin from a large canister into 250 milliliter bottles that go in the repair kit The kits bring in a couple of hundred euros extra income a month.

Tao‘s repair kit is one of many business ideas that have developed around the Eisbach. There are several surfboard manufacturers in Munich, and one fin maker. Many surf shops and big sports outlets sell surfing gear. Munich is home to a German surfing magazine, Tide. In the Schwabing district, a surf bar called Arts "n" Boards has just opened, and on Aug. 20 and 21 at Munich airport, Surf and Style, the first European Championship in Stationary Wave Riding is taking place with an artificially created standing wave. So the Eisbach has long been more than just merely a place for a few surfers to fool around; it's the focal point of a vibrant scene with influence that extends well beyond the Bavarian city, and catalyst of a small local surfing industry. In a sense, the Eisbach has made Munich Germany's surfing capital.

That's why Hamburg's Surf Festival is also staged in Munich (on-going until August 7). Organizer Christoph Ziegelmann hails from Hamburg, where – because it's right on the sea – one would expect a livelier surfing scene, but, he says, "surfing is higher status in Munich than in any other German city. The sport's much more within reach there."

Surfers are so common in Munich they don't stand out. On a nice summer's day, anybody cycling through the Innenstadt will sooner or later encounter one with their board under their arm. Surfers don't have to go searching for beaches with good waves: their playground is downtown. "It's like a little stadium here," says Tao. "Everything comes together in this one space."

Tao is one of about 15 surfers who call themselves the FUS Crew. The name doesn't really mean anything, and the crew has no specific goals, says Tao. FUS is just a bunch of guys who enjoy surfing together and who get inspiration – and grow as surfers – from each other's jumps and tricks.

German surfing in Australian movie houses

For people who aren't from Munich, it's a particular thrill to see to see somebody riding a river wave. The stationary wave is mentioned in every tourist guidebook, and even seasoned ocean surfers stand in admiration before some of the tricks they see performed on it. The movie Keep Surfing, which premiered at the Munich FilmFest in 2009, documents the Munich surfing scene, and cemented the city's reputation as German surfing capital. Shown in theaters nationwide, the film made the rounds of film festivals worldwide and will soon open in Australian theaters.

The Eisbach's growing fame went hand in hand with another development: sponsoring. "There are now about 30 people with sponsoring deals," Tao estimates. Most of them don't get much more than clothes and gear but it's enough to finance their hobby and a couple of trips to the ocean.

The first person to get the idea of sponsoring Eisbach surfers was Nico Meisner, one of the founders of Buster Surfboards, a Munich company. When you go to visit him at work, your first impression is that it's not really a serious business. He sits in a chaise longue on the lawn, his laptop bag and mobile phone on the grass beside him, his computer on his knees. In the background is the sound of flowing water -- when Nico lifts his eyes from his screen he sees Munich's Number Two surfing spot, the Floßlände. "When I don't have to go to the warehouse and the weather's nice, I often come here to work," he says.

It's an apparently successful way of getting things done: Nico‘s company presently makes 15 different boards for river and ocean surfing and sells about 500 a year all over Europe. That makes Buster one of the biggest German manufacturers. When Nico travels, he says he's amazed to see how well-known the company is. "Many times, I've been on a beach in France or Portugal with my board and somebody will say to me: ‘Buster, that's those guys from Munich!" If we get talking, and they realize it's my company, I get a kind of respect I never would have expected."

Buster is perhaps the best example of the way a business has flourished around the Eisbach. "Before, people surfed on boards that they bought cheap wherever they were on vacation. Nobody had any sense of what was best suited for conditions here," Nico recalls. There were no boards specifically tailored to a river wave. So Nico and his business partner began to build some. "The Eisbach was and remains the lifeblood of our business," Nico says.

It starts to rain. Nico closes his laptop. The rain is not a problem for him. If he feels like it, he'll go out later and get a little surfing in.

Read the original article in German

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