"There's simply no other surf spot like the southwest coast of France," says 3X World Champion Mick Fanning. "It has everything you need; incredible food and wine, history, culture and, of course, waves. I've had some of the best surfs of my life in the beachbreaks around Hossegor."
Hossegor is the French resort town that hosts the Quiksilver Pro France and Roxy Pro France each year, with backup locations in nearby Capbreton and Seignosse. It is tucked away in the southwest corner of the Bay of Biscay, in the crook where the French and Spanish Atlantic coastlines meet to form a coastal right angle.
Next to the town lies a long, straight stretch of scalloped golden sand that offers everything from thunderous, tubing waves that break only yards from the shore, to long, zippy rip bank peelers that are perfect for longboarders and beginners. On any given day professional surfers, post work enthusiasts and surf school students might just be having the surf of their life.
"My only advice to anyone who hasn't been to this part of the world is simply make it happen," says Fanning, who has won more Quik Pro France titles than any other. "It ticks every box for every surfer on every level."
Right Place, Right Time
It's no coincidence that the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro France are held just as the long summer nights draw to a close. With the required low pressure systems starting to stack up in the North Atlantic, Fall is prime time for surf.
From those storms the swells travel for thousands of miles before hitting an offshore canyon, similar to the ones present outside Blacks and Puerto Escondido. This deep trench acts as a funnel, concentrating the swells onto the groomed Hossegor sandbanks. More often than not they are met by offshore breezes freshly minted in Autumn as the cooler land air foils in to replace the rising warm air over the Atlantic ocean.
Depending on the size of the waves and the tide, different sections of the beach come into play for the freesurfers and competitors. At the southern end, in front of Hossegor La Centrale, La Nord offers Hawaiian style waves breaking on the outer banks 300 yards out to sea when the swell is huge and the tide is low. Six hours later on the high tide (which can be a much as 20-feet above the low tide mark), the same waves crash on the shore at the famous spot of La Graviere earning comparisons to Oahu's infamous Pipeline.
On smaller swells breaks further north like Les Culs Nus, Estagnots and Bourdaines offer a variety of peaks and rip bowls that ebb and flow with the tide. "Rips can be arm-destroying, the shore break board-destroying and closeouts soul-destroying," summarizes Surfline. "But also expect some of the best, most accessible barrels you will ever experience."
"This part of the world gets under your skin," says Joel Parkinson, the 2012 World Champion, who has been traveling to France for two decades. "The waves suck you in, but it's the overall lifestyle that keeps you coming back. There's epic beach and tapas bars, incredible food markets and great restaurants. It's a short drive to the Pyrenees Mountains, San Sebastian or the Bordeaux vineyards. I just feel the people there live life as it should be lived."
However despite the traditional way of life infusing every aspect of the community, make no mistake this is very much a surf town. Surfing has transformed this corner of France with the surf retail and tourism easily the region's biggest industry. The town revolves around the waves and the tides, with offices and bars emptying when the waves are pumping and then busying when they are not. European culture and surf culture haven't clashed, but meshed. It's an intoxicating mix of epic waves and fine wines, late meals and dawn surfs. Below Sage Erickson soak up the vibes.
Hollywood and Surf History
Surfing didn't arrive in France until 1957 when Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel brought his surfboard over when he was filming The Sun Also Rises in Biarritz. A local surfing community quickly sprung up led by Biarritz locals George Hennebutte and Joël De Rosnay. It is probably a fair reflection on France that De Rosnay is not only one of France's surfing pioneers, but also one of its leading scientists and futurists. Imagine Big Wednesday's Bear just more well dressed, incredibly handsome and armed with a PHD in Molecular Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Intrepid travelers and famous surfers arrived later in very small posses in the 1960s and 1970s, however it was the World Junior Championships held in Biarritz in 1980 that signaled a turning point. When 70 of the world's best young surfers, plus entourage and surf media, converged word starting getting out. The winner, a young American by the name of Tom Curren, would put the place on the map and later make it his home.
Yet even by the late 1980s the surf scene was still tiny. French pioneers like François Payot and the late Pierre Agnes were joined by expats like Maurice Cole, Jeff Hakman, Stephen Bell, Gary Elkerton, Tom Curren and Robbie Page, who all enjoyed a golden age of empty, perfect waves. However by the early 1990s Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong had all been established in the area. Business boomed as did the first generation of local rippers. In 2002 the Quik Pro France started and ever since Hossegor has, rightly, been seen as a bucket list surf destination.
"Back in the late ‘80s there was no one surfing, we had it to ourselves," Elkerton told the WSL. "To think of the size and stature of the billion dollar industry and the huge surfing events there now is incredible. There is just no way we would have predicted that back in the '80s. But it was too good to be kept a secret. It's changed, but the essence remains the same. Great waves, great people, great food, great wine. What more do you need?"