BEYOND THE PINES
THERE ISN’T ANYTHING QUITE LIKE THE FRENCH ROAD TRIP. EVERYONE NEEDS A YEARLY SOJOURN TO LES LANDES TO SCORE SOME FUN AS HELL WAVES AND SOAK UP A LITTLE GALLIC JOIE DE VIVRE. DOING IT WHEN THE WORLD TOUR CIRCUS IN TOWN IS ONE ENTICING OPTION…
Whether you take the slow road in your own motor and hop on a ferry or take the sting off the trip and do a budget flight into Biarritz, Bordeaux or Bilbao and get a rental whip the end result is the same: you end up in the south-west of France. A region renowned for its cheeky reds to most but its sublime sandbars to us.
From the Spanish border right up to Bordeaux is, with a few river based exceptions, one long ass beach. A hundred-mile stretch of shifting sand, gravel and grit that given a cooperative Atlantic can conspire to produce arguably the world’s best beach break peaks. Waves of every imaginable aspect: from long, whackable, almost point break like walls, through mad, gravel-blasting A-frame shore breaks that’ll shove grit in orifices you didn’t know you had and the pinnacle, of course, the roping barrels that made the area famous.
France has been on the wave rider’s radar a while, Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel kicked off surfing in France all the way back in 1956, when he spotted the area’s potential while filming Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises around Biarritz. He got a board shipped over from Cali and, taking local groms like Joel de Rosnay under his wing, started the French love affair with the glisse (the French word meaning ’slide’ that all sliding sports like surfing, skating and snowboarding are described by).
The ‘60s single-fin era saw the now defunct gem of La Barre in Anglet as the hot spot and a steady flow of switched on Californians and Aussies sharing the latest board designs and culture. As boards shortened and fins multiplied the focus shifted up the coast to the sleepy beach towns of Hossegor and Capbreton. The European surf industry blossomed just inland out amongst the pines and the world tour soon followed. Forty years later the tour still makes its annual pilgrimage in a season extending windfall for the town. How much longer this happens remains to be seen with rumblings from the World Surf League that from 2019 the tour will start in January at Pipeline and end in September at a special event in the Ments. Portugal has been mooted to be scheduled in for spring, there’s been no mention of France, which understandably has every local biz owner’s financial sphincter tweaking.
Time was the hectic summer tourist season ended first week of September. Then tumbleweeds apart from the travelling surfers in their vans, who didn’t really put much in to the local economy. As the summer tour event window wisely pushed back in to the more promising autumn window for waves it’s extended the season by six weeks. The second the comp finishes the town breathes a sigh of relief, closes the shutters and counts the cash. Then plans a nice long holiday to avoid the frankly dull as hell winters. Sure it can pump but it can be massive and onshore for weeks on end and the water quality can get pretty suss.