The best beach breaks in the world and epicenter of surfing in Europe, ya babe, let’s go to France! That’s pretty much how the conversation went. My girlfriend’s mom was going to spend some time in Paris this winter and invited us to come visit. I never really heard the word Paris, my mind went straight to Southwest France. Words like Quiksilver Pro, Hossegor, and hollow beach breaks replaced city of lights, Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Luckily my girlfriend Michelle loves surfing as much as I do. I didn’t have to do much convincing to turn a trip to Paris into a 3 week surf adventure.
The weather and surf in France run on a very similar cycle as Oregon. The best of both are in our Fall. Summers are warmer but with little swell and winters are cold with huge surf. I promised myself a long time ago that I would never leave home in September and October. So we decided on November before the winter weather kicked in. After talking with some friends who lived there, I was convinced this was a good idea. We bought our tickets and rented a condo right in Hossegor overlooking their famous beach breaks.
By late October, I had only surfed a handful of good days at home. Storms started rolling in by mid-September and we didn’t have our traditional clean surf. Meanwhile, I was watching the surf report for Hossegor. It had been all time! Weeks of pumping swell and beautiful off-shore conditions. As surfers we know good surf only lasts for so long. Likewise, a run of bad swell will eventually end and give way to epic days. Both zones were due for a change of fortune, and it was looking like our timing was going to be horrible.
The day we arrived was to be the last day of France’s run of nice weather and swell. It was sunny with super fun surf. We paddled out at a spot called Estagnots, just north of where we were staying. It was the only day of small and clean enough swell to surf this spot for the rest of the trip. A new weather pattern moved in the very next day. Unorganized swell, rain, wind and cooler temperatures were what we would experience for the next 3 weeks. The exact thing we left behind in Oregon had followed us here.
I’ve reached an age in my life where I know exactly what I want and what I want to be doing. I have spent enough time searching to know that all I really want to spend my free time doing is surf. I work hard all year so on my time off I can be in the ocean as much as possible. So seeing a surf report calling for unfavorable winds and weather did not make me happy. To compound it further, the report back home was cleaning up and I started hearing reports of good waves. I tried to pretend I was having a good time, but Michelle saw right through that. I had to change my attitude, which is difficult for a stubborn middle aged surf addict.
The poor conditions made us travel just about every day to find clean enough waves to ride. We searched throughout Southwest France and into Spain. What was disappointing is that I woke up every morning staring at the world famous Hossegor breaks and couldn’t ride them. Except for a couple magical moments during a 45 minute evening session, these were untouchable. I would have been happy to surf out front every day had it been an option. There would have been no need for me to travel elsewhere. But because we had to search to find waves, I started to see the true magic of this part of the world. I got to experience its culture and learn about its amazing history. We surfed Biarritz to hide from the south wind and ended up eating brunch at a restaurant that Napoleon III ate at.
We caught waves in St. Jean De Luz one day then found a bakery that’s been open since 1660 and had served dessert to Louis 14th. Michelle had her best surf in a town called Hendaye, and afterward we toured Chateau Abbadia, the castle of the father of the Basque Language. Then after going to Mundaka Spain, we went to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. We ended up touring numerous churches, drank fantastic wines, eat unbelievable food, and met countless people who were warm and welcoming. The more we traveled the better time I had and my attitude and outlook completely changed.
They say life isn’t about the destination but rather more about the journey. We tend to focus too much on what is expected and miss the joy of experiencing new things. The same can be said for differences between people, cultures, and religion. Take the time to educate yourself about things you don’t know or understand. The world would be a better place if we all did this more.
Even though I didn’t get the surf I was hoping for, the things I saw and experienced made this one of the best trips of my life. France is far more than world class waves, and should be a destination for every surfer. Even if the surf report doesn’t look that good……