Surfing in southwest France

by Alf.Alderson

With pretty constant summer sunshine, great rolling waves and a main street lined with surf boutiques, it's no wonder Hossegor, in southwest France, attracts surfers from around the world

Sometime in the early 1960s travelling Californian and Aussie surfers stumbled upon the quiet, rolling waves of the Basque and Landaise coastlines in southwest France. Seeing these busy beaches today, where surfing is now both a way of life and a way of making a living for many locals, it’s almost impossible to imagine these waves empty of surfers.
 
These days there’s hardly a single kilometre of the coast that won’t have the waft of surf wax drifting in the air when a good swell is running, and for good reason. As pro surfer and several times English champion Gabe Davies points out, “This stretch of coast has the finest and most consistent beach breaks in Europe along with air and water temperatures that from April to October allow you to surf all day without feeling cold.”
 
And Gabe should know – he’s lived in the surf-mad settlement of Seignosse for almost 10 years and even surfs here occasionally with a mate of his who definitely knows a thing or two about good waves – nine times world champ Kelly Slater.
 
A few kilometres to the south is Hossegor, which is pretty much the focal point of European surfing - you’re constantly surrounded by surf culture both in and out of the water, so you can immerse yourself in the whole surfie experience without even getting wet.
 
The town’s main street is lined with surf boutiques (as opposed to mere surf shops - this is France, after all…), every other person of either sex sports the obligatory bleached hair and baggy boardshorts, and you’ll meet surfers from every corner of the globe. If you spend a week or so here in late summer you’ll almost certainly catch sight of one or more surf pros, too, either in the bars or on the waves, since this is when various world championship surf contests take place on whichever stretch of beach has the best waves at the time.
 
As far as accommodation is concerned, there are several rather rough and ready camp sites within sound of the surf, although Gabe recommends something a little more upmarket - Les Chenes, a lovingly renovated country house just inland from Hossegor that’s owned by a British couple who used to provide a similar service for skiers and boarders in Andorra, or one of the seafront apartments at Hossegor from where you can check the surf as you eat your breakfast.
 
Les Chenes is ideal if you’re looking to kick back and relax after a hard day in the surf, since it’s in a quiet location, sports massages are available from qualified masseuses and the food is superb. The beachfront option is very much for party animals. You’ll be close to one of the world’s busiest surf beaches as well as being almost next door to the world’s most famous surf bar, the Rock Food, where you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with top pro surfers whilst ordering a drink, and where the nightlife in the bar, on the promenade outside and on the beach beneath it rarely fades away before 4am in summer.
 
It’s when you’re out in the water that the big advantage of the French surf experience is felt, literally. For here in southwest France you can relax in the warm water and pretty constant sunshine and even at the end of a full afternoon of surfing you won’t be feeling the chill as you would in British waters. The warmer conditions allow you to wear a thin wetsuit (maybe just boardshorts on hot days), which provides far more freedom of movement than the thick neoprene layer you need in the UK.
 
The days of waves with just a handful of surfers riding on them are long gone, but a surf trip to South West France is still a rite of passage for anyone who calls themselves a ‘real’ surfer.
  

Recommendations

Accommodation

Les Chenes, just outside Hossegor, specialises in offering surfer-friendly accommodation from €35 per night.
 
Camping Municipal at Seignosse near Hossegor is popular with the surfie crowd but can be pretty hectic.
 

Eating and drinking

The infamous Rock Food Café above the beach is surf central and heaves with action until the wee small hours.
 
For something slightly less frenetic try the Café de Paris in the centre of town, which is also great for people watching.
  

Getting There

Air: Ryanair offer return flights to Biarritz from Stansted Airport.
 
Road & ferry: it’s obviously a long drive south from all the cross-Channel ferries so you may want to consider the longer but considerably more expensive routes from Portsmouth to Bilbao (P&O Ferries) or Plymouth to Santander (Brittany Ferries). It takes around two hours to drive to the region from Bilbao and about three hours from Santander.
 
However, by taking the shorter cross-Channel routes you have the chance to drive down the Atlantic coast and maybe catch some waves en route to the southwest. One of the best options is Brittany Ferries’ Plymouth – Roscoff route, which takes you almost direct into surfing territory in Brittany.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Alf.Alderson

Alf Alderson is an award winning freelance travel and adventure sports journalist and photographer based in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. His work appears regularly in various national newspapers and magazines in the UK and abroad. He is also gear editor and a major contributor to Outdoor Enthusiast magazine. Alf is the author of several books, including the Rough Guide to the Rocky Mountains, the official guide to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Surf UK and Surfing - A Beginner's Manual. His 'specialist subjects' are surfing, skiing, mountain walking and mountain biking, Examples of his work can be seen at www.alfalderson.co.uk