Kayaking in winter is everything except cold. Warming drysuits guarantee an experience of next-level comfort on the wintry Lake Brienz. Something that Dave Storey discovered for himself. He shows his guests steep rock faces, mystical and moody views and the power of nature.
«Home from home» (Video: Switzerland Tourism)
Bönigen by Lake Brienz
Bönigen sits between the impressive slopes of the Bernese Oberland Alps on the southern bank of Lake Brienz, in the Interlaken holiday region.
Kayaking is a way of life
Dave was born and bred in Manchester. He has been passionate about kayaking since childhood, and he fulfilled his lifelong dream in Switzerland, founding his own kayak school on Lake Brienz. For Dave, helping his guests to experience the magic of kayaking is almost as fulfilling as paddling out somewhere himself. “The moment when newbies are gripped by enthusiasm is amazing.”
“It doesn't matter what the weather is doing. It is always a unique experience.”
There is clinking and clanking from behind the Hotel Oberländerhof. The boats have frozen overnight. With a big tug, Dave heaves his kayak out of its frame and removes the snow and ice. Before meeting his guests, the Englishman likes to take a little time to paddle out onto the lake alone. The snow and cold don’t put the experienced kayaker off in the slightest – quite the opposite: “Winter is the best time to go kayaking,” he enthuses, “when there is a unique atmosphere out on the lake.” In fact, there is something mystical about the lake in winter – with no boats to be seen and as smooth as glass, total tranquillity reigns.
Out onto icy waters
The guests, strongly resembling yellow Michelin men, are huddled in a circle and laughing, as they force excess air out of their drysuits. These will eventually keep them warm without limiting movement. Excitement is slowly mounting. After a few exercises on dry land, it's time to hit the icy water. For most, a few practice strokes suffice before they get the hang of it. And there are always helpful tips from the coach. “The boat is an extension of your body,” explains Dave, as he demonstrates how to make turns. He enjoys this interaction with the guests.
The turquoise water is clear as glass: when you paddle near the vertical rock face, you almost feel like you are floating. “Lake Brienz is simply unique,” enthuses Dave. Lying between two mountain chains, the lake is an extraordinary testament to all that nature can offer. As most of the banks of the lake remain unspoiled, “we can stop off wherever we like for a break. It's a natural paradise”.
In love with Switzerland
Dave was actually only meant to come to Switzerland for a two-week ski instructor training course – and that was over ten years ago. Love has kept him here ever since. He met the woman of his dreams in physiotherapy and it was love at first sight. The gregarious Englishman soon settled in, and it wasn’t long until he got a job in the winter sport industry. Yet as a true nature lover, there was one thing that Dave missed: “I really wanted to spend more time outdoors again and get back into paddling.”
And during an excursion to Lake Brienz, he really fell for the place. “It was so tranquil and just the perfect spot for paddling,” remembers Dave. “I really couldn’t believe that there weren’t any kayak tours there yet.” Ultimately, this revelation gave Dave the impetus to build something of his own, an idea that he had already been entertaining for a while.
“In very calm moments, you can see reflections of the mountains on the water.”
From a parking space to a lifelong dream
It all began with just five boats, in one single parking space behind Hotel Oberländerhof in Bönigen. Today, Hightide Kayak School has a more permanent location by the lido in Bönigen, from where it offers tours and courses throughout the year. Big success for a small family. But it hasn't come easily. “Making a living from outdoor sport is not easy,” explains Dave, “and I owe lot to my team.” This is no everyday job – there is a lot of passion involved.