Arthur Bourbon’s (Cycle) Path To Discovery

Le Chemin is a new film supported by Reef that documents the French surfer and filmer’s cycling journey from the Basque Country to Brittany.

Along the month-long, 600-mile journey, Arthur meets ocean enthusiasts with inspiring commitments and life paths, while rediscovering the surf spots of the French Atlantic Coast. Meditative, instructive, and joyous, it’s a film that inspires and entertains. We caught up with Bourbon to discuss the new film. 

“I wanted to meet those people that have the keys to a different way of living, a way with more care and responsibility for the planet,” Arthur Bourbon told Wavelength. “I wanted to see the reality of the people that had changed their lives. And the reality was that it was tough choosing a difficult path. They didn’t have a lot of money, and they were tired, but mostly they were happy.”

For Bourbon’s new film Le Chemin, or The Path, the French surfer and filmmaker came up with a fairly unique way to document the lives of these people with the keys to a new way of living. He decided to travel the 900 kilometres from his home in Biarritz to Brittany, by bike along the La Vélodyssée bicycle route. Packing two surfboards, he also would try to uncover a few hidden gems along the Atlantic Coast.

Now Bourbon is a great surfer and a fine filmmaker (his previous film was the award-winning Water Get No Enemy, about Liberia’s child soldiers turned surfers), but he ain’t no cyclist. A month before the trip, his seven-year-old bike lay in his backyard with spokes and chain both undergoing advanced stages of iron oxidation. Boardshorts and tees were his lycra. Clip-in cycling shoes came in the form of his trusty Reef trainers. Sure, they didn’t smell too great by the end, but the goal was to tackle the journey in his own way, in his own style.

Then his plan to get bike-fit was scuppered by a bout of Covid, which left him a stone lighter. Two weeks before the trip he was unable to walk up a flight of stairs, let alone cycle 60 miles a day hauling 40 kilograms of cameras, clothing, camping gear, surfboards, and wetsuits.

Yet, along with filmer and friend Clement Le Page, he embarked on his 30-day journey in September 2021. At various stops, he would check out the lives and initiatives of personalities who were addressing environmental and climate issues through their way of living. The film is effectively portraits of these individuals.

He visits Mathieu Gusto, founder of the Jardin Fleur de Vie, a permaculture farm in Capbreton in the Landes. “Mathieu is living proof that it’s possible to love tomatoes, butterflies, and heavy metal tenderly, and all at the same time,” says the film narrator on the punk market gardener.

Further north he stays with childhood friend and legendary pro surfer Vincent Duvignac, whose Mimizan surf school cabin is entirely made of recycled materials. Later he meets Vincent Lartizien, a French big-wave OG who helped pioneer Belharra, but now runs Les Chanvres de l’Atlantique, a French leader in the cultivation and manufacturing of hemp.

In one of the better cases of nominative determinism, Arthur Le Vaillant is a legendary offshore sailor who started Sailcoop, a cooperative for the transport of passengers by sail. Bourbon meets another iconic seaman in Roland “Bilou” Jourdain. He is one of the creators of Explore, an endowment fund for environmental exploration, and Kaïros, a company specialising in biomaterials.

And finally, it wouldn’t be a French documentary without a bakery. Arthur’s most northerly stop is Moulin de St. Germain. Here surfer and baker Pierre Jehanno grows wheat to make flour from which he bakes his bread. A simple idea, but one that has invigorated a whole community.

“I wanted to meet these people to inspire my path to living better, ” says Bourbon, “but by making a movie hopefully others would be inspired too.” Bourbon was taken aback by the welcome and camaraderie he received along the whole stretch of the La Vélodyssée. Perhaps the best example was at a rare slab in Brittany, well protected by the local bodyboarders. The wave hadn’t broken in two years, but Bourbon rocked up on a firing day and was welcomed by the locals. No one could remember the last time a stand-up had surfed the wave.

“I think it helped that I arrived by bike, having travelled 700 km to get there. “So I wasn’t exactly chasing a swell,” laughs Bourbon. “The chances of scoring that is a million to one. It was one of the best sessions I’ve had in years, and I’m still in contact with all the surfers that helped make it so special.”

By the end of the trip, Bourbon had not only found inspiration to delve more deeply into his own path of responsibility, but the self-described Sunday cyclist had become a two-wheel acolyte.

“It was a revelation to do all day on a bike. I didn’t listen to music, myself and Clement talked, but sparingly,” says Bourbon. “And my legs ached from day 1 to day 30, but slowly I became addicted to the rhythms of the bike. It sounds corny, but it became meditative. To live simply, with a few possessions and travel under your own steam, whilst being aware of the natural world, was an incredible feeling.”

Le Chemin has already had a few screenings in France and picked up an award at the Anglet International Surf Film Festival. In September details of a tour taking in Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Montpelier, Brest, Nantes, Bordeaux, and Biarritz will be announced.

“Le Chemin” Trailer from hand studio on Vimeo.