Schwingers, beer, bratwurst and the Swiss National Anthem. For the last 67 years, the Swiss Club in Chula Vista has celebrated Schwingfest every June.
A Brief History of the Swiss Club
The Swiss Club dates back to 1939 when a group of Swiss German men built the space. They were farmers who had moved into Chula Vista and the Tijuana River Valley to grow vegetables and establish dairies. The men also wanted their descendants to appreciate the traditions of their motherland, so they created the Club and held traditional Swiss cultural activities. Although the Club had to be moved in 1970 when the I-5 freeway was built, today they still have the large hall and a grand backyard with a theater and space for events such as Schwingfest.
Located right next to the Salt Works and the trailhead of the Otay Valley Regional Park, the Swiss Club is run and operated by descendants of those first Swiss farmers. They hold many events throughout the year, including Schwingfest in June and Swiss Independence Day in August.
A Brief History of Schwingen
Schwingen is a Swiss wrestling sport whose origins probably date back to the 13th century when farmers and sheep herders from the Alpine region invented the sport. At that time, wrestlers competed for a piece of trouser cloth. The “Hosenlupf” or trouser lift formed an important part of the festival.
From those simple origins, Schwingen developed its own rules, including many grips and throws. Over time, one hundred throws developed and are now codified in the Schwingen manual. The five major throws are: the Bringer, Bur, Hufter, Kurz and the Ubersprung.
By the 19th century, the sport became associated with Swiss national consciousness and spread throughout the cities. The first Schwinger Association was founded in 1895. Today, there are about 5,000 active wrestlers. Wrestlers still wear long trousers over which short wrestling pants made of jute are worn.
The very first Schwingest in Chula Vista was held in 1949 at Egger’s Park and still today, they make sure the ring is made of traditional sawdust and is 10 meters across. Competitors come from all over the West Coast to compete, in particular Imperial Valley where a large number of Swiss still live today. Interestingly, kids compete by age, but once you turn eighteen, everybody competes in the same class, with no specific height or weight designation.
The Swiss Club
Tony Odermatt, President of the Swiss Club, explains that Schwingfest has taken place in Chula Vista for the last 67 years. His grandfather, Robert Egger, started farming in Imperial Valley, but then he came to this area because it was cooler. Tony says, Imperial Beach got its name from these Swiss farmers who came from “Imperial” to be near the beach. Robert Egger founded the Swiss Club along with several other men.
There once were three to four hundred Swiss who would come to the Club and participate in activities. Most were dairy farmers and the heyday of Swiss presence here was in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Over two generations, however, the properties were too expensive to farm and most of the Swiss moved out. Those who remained intermarried with others and lost their heritage. As a consequence, the number of participants at the Swiss Club continues to dwindle.
David Egger–also grandson of Robert Egger–competed as a Schwinger from the time he was five years old (in the 1960’s) and continued perfecting the sport until the 1990’s. He was West Coast champion several times and also competed in a dozen different locations in Switzerland. He now teaches the sport to kids in the South Bay. Back in the sixties and seventies, there would be anywhere from thirty to forty boys. Today, he has about eight students. Schwingfest is the day that kids and adults come to show off their skills. Although the Club may not host exclusively Swiss spectators, the space is packed with visitors eager to enjoy the unique sport that you can’t watch on TV in these parts.
Schwingfest also offers traditional Swiss food, including potato salad and bratwurst. Kids perform traditional dances and there’s plenty of good beer to go around. It’s a day of fun and frolic over in Chula Vista and well worth a visit.