Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surfing in France

Melissa and I are in France on vacation. We drove from Naples, Italy all the way to Capbreton, France which is just to the south of famous surfing town Hossegor on the Bay of Biscay. (What was a 16 hour drive took us 21 because of holiday traffic, but I digress.) We found a very nice hotel right on the south end of the beach in Capbreton called the Cap Club. The hotel was clearly built in the 70’s but is in a great location. From the front deck of the hotel we can look out at the surf breaks of Capbreton. The town itself is probably the size of South Seaside Park, and is about as busy. There aren’t any wild bars or nightclubs but the town is a vibrant little beach town right on the ocean with lots of great restaurants and cafĂ©’s. There are fantastic bike paths all along the beach, and stone “boardwalk” that allows pedestrian traffic to get all around the town. It is a great little beach town.

Capbreton is separated from Hossegor by a small channel “think smaller than Point Pleasant” that allows fishing boats and private boats access to the sea. That islet is at the north end of Capbreton. As you work your way south, there are a series of jetties that break up the beaches. From north to south, you have the beach that is up against the channel, which from what I have seen has no waves, is just crashing shore break. Then there is a small beach just in front of the hotel that has a pretty good beach break. South of the hotel is the final jetty, and that opens up into wide beaches and huge sand dunes as far south as the eye can see. This area seems to have the best surf. I have surfed from that south jetty all the way down to what appear to be huge rock formations, but are actually giant concrete costal defenses from the Second World War.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot when we set out for a surf trip to France. My thought was, how good could it possibly be. I mean, it’s the Atlantic, early Aug is the very beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. I could get completely skunked. As we drove across central France, probably only 100km from the beach we saw a huge gray storm clout on the horizon. Our 8-hour drive in the sun turned into 70mph winds, and driving rain. The temperature dropped from 85 and sunny just north of the Pyrenees to 65, windy and rainy. We got to the beach in light rain and clouds, and the surf was up. It was totally victory at sea. It was also about 8PM and no one was out (the sun sets here around 9:30); so paddling out didn’t seem like a good idea. So we went out to dinner in Hossegor and went to bed. The next morning I was up at 7AM to check the waves and it was still stormy with no one out… experience tells me, when surfing a new spot, if there is no one out, it’s for a good reason. So I went back to bed until about 8:30 and checked again. This time there were probably 10 guys out in front of the hotel and at the jetty. So I grabbed my board and paddled out.

The tide was low, so I followed a French surfer down the rocks on the south side of the jetty and paddled out behind him (keeping the jetty on my right sheltered me from the surf and that paddle was fairly easy.) Once I was out there, the sets were excellent, peeling rights along the jetty that were easily head high plus. Since I hadn’t been in the water in 7 months (since we were in Cabo in December), I was a little rusty, and my first two waves were… not so good. But my third, a beauty on the outside was mine alone, and peeled all the way to the beach. I was able to get two good turns off the top as well as speed through a center section. I ended up with 10 waves total and had a great time. Things have continued to be good here in France. I was out for another great session in the evening. The surf was still holding it’s size and the wind had died. There were fun clean conditions. There were a lot more Frenchmen out in the afternoon, but they were very polite, didn’t drop in, and if you paddled strongly for a wave they pretty much backed off. Based on those two surf sessions on our first day in France (Sunday the 2nd) the French surf already exceeded my expectations.

Monday showed a drop in surf but cleaner conditions. I paddled out at around Noon (after the extreme low tide in the morning) and surfed for two hours. The surf was in the Chest to Head High range and very clean with light off shore wind. I surfed further south, and at one point paddled over and took a look at the gigantic coastal defenses that the Germans built on the beach 65 years ago. It was a fun and very interesting surf session. I got out pretty far south from the hotel, and walked back up the beach to the boardwalk. That section of the beach had a much younger crowd and lots of young surfer girlfriends all laying out topless… you got to love France. So, thus far, my French surfing experience has exceeded my expectations. The forecast calls for 6-8ft surf on Thursday (ground swell), this could end up being an epic surf trip.

I’ll keep you posted and put up some pics when we get them downloaded to the computer.

Ciao and au revoir, Joe

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