It’s through slightly rose-tinted glasses and with a hint of nostalgia that I anticipate the arrival of the WSL to the South West coast of France. For me, the 9th stop of the World Surf League is by far the best. This is due partly to the fact that as a kid, summers would involve loading up the family car with more tinned food than is present in a nuclear bomb shelter, and driving 600 miles to set up camp in a small section of pine forest on the ‘Cote Atlantique Sud-Ouest’. The endlessly warm summer days spent playing in the French surf. It was also my first taste of genuinely powerful waves. A step up from the UK beach breaks I was used to. The raw power of the Atlantic unloading onto the white sand of the French dunes.
But it’s not just the fond memories of childhood summers that make this my favourite contest on tour. It’s beach break surfing at its very best. Huge swathes of moving water, constantly shifting peaks. And at high tide with a decent swell, a shore-break to rival that found on the north shore of Hawaii.
You have to actively hunt down the best waves, sitting out the back on your board and waiting for the sets to find you isn’t an option, seeing two surfers in the same heat sitting several hundred metres apart isn’t unusual. And don’t expect the conditions to remain consistent for the day, or even the hour. The tide plays a big part in the make up of the wave. You can pretty much guarantee the wind will get stronger throughout the course of a day, ensuring that the first and last heat of the day will look completely different.
And the ride itself? Well it’s a chameleon of a wave. On smaller days, with a light offshore breeze, it does a pretty good impression of Trestles. Larger swells in glassy conditions, you could be at J-Bay. And it’s pièce de résistance: show the beach a pumping swell and send a steady offshore wind blowing over the dunes, you’ve got France’s answer to Pipeline, complete with frothing spray spewing out the barrel.
So, a true test. No sitting on a dime, waiting for the sets to predictably roll in. And with the title race still so open, I see no reason for me to pick a new favourite event on tour just yet.