It seems natural that European surfing started here. Apart from the variety of surf, all the beaches are stunning, with golden sand and clean blue water, so even if you can’t do it you can still have a pleasant time trying. The stretch from Hossegor to San Sebastián in particular has been compared to Australia’s Gold Coast, and it’s not surprising to discover that Australian surfing brands Billabong, Rip Curl and Quicksilver all have a strong presence here.
During the summer season surfing events attract amateurs and professionals from all over the world. In Lacanau, we catch the Sooruz Lacanau Pro 2006 surf competition, which is into its semi-finals (it will be won by Australian Mick Campbell), and in Hossegor, the Rip Curl Pro 20th anniversary party (at famous local surf venue Cream Café).
After watching the pros, it’s time for us to have a go at Biarritz’ Côtes des Basques beach. Our instructor is bleach-blond Frenchman Christophe, the son of Jo Moraiz, the school’s founder. With boards lying solidly on the sand, he demonstrates the basics of lying properly on the board as well as the trick to standing up. It all looks pretty simple and on solid ground, easy to pull off. After a few successful tries I’m looking forward to getting out there.
The Côtes des Basque is one of the best beaches on this coast for beginners, explains Christophe. “The cliffs protect the beach from the north winds so the waves are glassy [not too broken up],” he says.
Of course, once in the water, glassy or not, it’s another story. I can paddle out through the surf fine and even catch waves but every time I try to raise myself up I instantly fall off. The other students in my group don’t seem to have the same problem, and after two or three tries most are happily vertical on the waves and skimming into shore.
Christophe has successfully taught people from all ages and backgrounds. “I had a Californian guy a couple of years ago who was 74 years old and he did it,” he says, smiling at me. “They come from all over the world: Korea, Chinese, Italian; this year there was a lot of Dutch, Finnish, and Swiss.”
Good luck to them. With eyes bleary and confidence evaporated like sea foam on the Biarritz wind I decide to dry off and begin thinking about something I know I can do well: order lunch. “Un salad de Basque, s’il vous plaît,” I say to the waitress, hiding my phrasebook, “et un café crème – très grand!” ●
Andrew Polson travelled from La Rochelle to San Sebastien with Ze Bus (www.ze-bus.com). The three-day Wine and Surf tour is €99 and includes transport
If the surf’s flat
If your balance is as bad as mine then surfing is only one of this region’s attractions. Other possible activities include:
A hike up Dune du Playa – the tallest sand dune in Europe, outside of Arcachon. It’s a relatively easy climb but the view from the top is breathtaking, with the Atlantic on one side and the Arguin reserve on the other.
Spend a morning at leading Médoc vineyard Chateau Le Breuil Renaissance where you can sample some of the most winetastic reds in Bordeaux.
Stroll around the beautiful harbour of 10th century maritime town La Rochelle with its fantastic markets and range of harbourside restaurants.