September for French Surfers is the most anticipated time of the year. You know that feeling you get at 4pm on a Friday, then times it by 100 because you’re a surfer who has slogged out a Summer of weak waves and is now surrounded by the World’s best beach break barrels. On a nudist beach. That goes on for miles. It’s the bees knees.
Like most people I love beach break barrels, red wine, culinary excellence, croissants, good looking humans and these are some of the hallmarks of South West France, it’s one of the greatest places in the World to be a surfer and Hossegor is the holy grail. Being the epicentre of European surfing it is a right of passage for every surfer, but if you go down there and do it wrong you can get proper skanked. So here are my top tips on how to score everyone’s favourite French seaside town in style.
First things first you need to get down there. Assuming you’re coming from the UK, you have three viable options as follows, in order of preference:
Ideally you have enough cash to get the ferry from Plymouth or Portsmouth down to Santander, Spain and take the leisurely cruise up to Hossegor. It takes a couple of hours but you must make a day of it stopping in Bilbao (see the Guggenheim?) San Sebastian for some Pinchos, Saint-Jean-de-Luz because it’s beautiful, Biarritz just because, then set up your base. It’s quite costly with Brittany Ferries but reasonable if you’ve got a car full and your holiday starts as soon as you’ve tied down your boards and hit the road. Also the ferry has a cracking bar and karaoke night.
If you can’t afford the crossing to Santander you can get a much cheaper crossing to Roscoff, which combines both elements of a France road trip with a shortened version of the ferry fun.
Mega Road Trip
The reason you want your car in South West France is to get from your pad to the waves, as you will usually be staying somewhere that will be a doable but annoying 20 minute walk to the beach. It’s also handy for checking different spots in search of an empty peak. The cheapest way to get down there with your car is to drive up to Dover (six hours from Cornwall), get the Eurotunnel to France and mission it down. It’s about 1,000 miles from Newquay and takes ALL DAY (16 – 20 hours), but it’s a proper road trip and great fun with the right mates. It works out at around £300 in fuel and tolls (in a 2.0 diesel Berlingo) and £150 for the crossing, so chuck in £50 for snacks on the road and it’s about £100pp for five frothing friends.
Boring but cost-effective and efficient. Fly to Biarritz ideally as it’s only a 40 minute drive. Or fly to Bordeaux if it’s loads cheaper, which is a two hour drive away, but you can stop off at World class vineyards on your way. Check skyscanner for the best flights.
Essentially the whole Landes area of France in one massive beach 100 miles long, so you would think that the waves would be the similar, but the formation of the sand banks means you can get a surprising variety; from longbord peelers to heaving kegs, even surrounding Hossegor the waves vary. We’re not going to divulge any secrets here, but here’s a summary of the known spots:
Starting from the South, or as futher south as you’ll probably go if you’re in Hossegor is Capbreton. This is the spot with the WW2 Bunkers and huge sand dunes, very photogenic stuff. Also home to SICK waves and a personal favourite of mine known as VVF. I got my first back hand barrel here and remember it like it was yesterday (it was 2005), you WILL get barrelled if you simply pull in. Easier said than done. It’s such a good wave, but these perfect tubes attract a crowd and rightly so. Go down there for the day, starting early, chill out, take some bread, cheese, water and nip in and out as you see the crowds thin and prepare for some punchy pits and humbling beatings.
This is close to the river mouth so can get grimey, but it’s the most sheletered wave on this stretch so it’s nice on big days and good for beginner / intermediate surfers, or anyone wanting to get away from the numerous kids doing barrel to air reverse combos on what looks like a closeout to you.
When it’s massive this is currently the best spot to surf as the outside bank holds the swell and creates a good wally, fast right into the channel. If it’s huge the rip is ridiculous and if you go left you might as well get out and do the walk around the rip is that bad. Regardless of the size it’s always busy and there’s a hectic shoredump which is harder to come in from than is to get out.
Oooooh Laaaaa Laaaaa, this is what people come to South West France for, but it’s not for the feint hearted. According to our inside info (Harry Timson) the sand bank sits further out than the rest of the breaks and when the swell hits, it hits with a vengeance creating an outer reef style roll-in wave, which then hits the next sand bank and mutates into a death pit. Real shallow, very fast, often closes out and a hell rip, go for it.
Les Culs Nuls
The Bare Bums. This is always quieter than the rest of the spots, maybe due to the patrons that actually use the beach for what it is named for. Harry says that as the Volcom House is right opposite he surfs it a lot and is very playful when the swell is smaller on mid-high tide and great for photos (because it breaks on the beach, not because of the bare tits and truncheons).
Harry’s sister Georgie Timson, also habitating in the Volcom House says this is her favourite wave as “there’s a SICK right, real fast and hollow, great for smashing the lip.” It’s popular with quite a lot of the locals as there’s a big car park (where I once had a beer with Matty Wilko and met Mick Fanning, not that I’m one for name dropping).
Now we’re in Seignosse, definitely a car drive, otherwise it’s like a “The Way Back” style trek up the beach in the relentless sun (poor you). Really good banks creating consistent lefts and rights, ALWAYS quieter than the waves to the south, yet you’re only a three minute drive away. No brainer?
Only ever surfed here because there’s an awesome little concrete skatepark just before the path to the beach, so would combine the two for a day of fun. It was fun when it was small but the peaks were a bit all over the place and when it got bigger it took me 30 minutes to get out back, in the worst rip I’ve ever experienced, then I got one massive closeout and thought I was dead. Quiet though.
Keep going and you’ll get quieter waves of similar quality as the same swell lights up the sand banks for miles, so go North and prosper…
What to eat
Just eat Bread, Croissants, Cheese!Seriously I don’t know what they do to the bread here but a warm crusty baguette filled with brie and tomato is unbeatable. The croissants are the best in the World. Probably not nutritionally great but both will fuel your surfs and are cheap AF. You will experience a comedown, but you can pick yourself up with a €1 coffee from anywhere. Winning. However, this is an area of culinery delights however so you will want to eat out and here are my favourite places to eat in Hossegor (you may notice a trend)
Used to be called Hossegor’s Sandwiches and holy cow the burgers here are amazing. Go here starving and you won’t be disappointed. The brown bag of goodness they give you is so heavy you can’t imagine how it’s going to sit in your belly. Best eaten after a day of surfing and wanting to steer clear of the nightlife as you’ll be knocked out.
Beach break hossegor
This little spot on the strip leading down to the beach does great nutritionless paninis, sandwiches, burgers and ice creams. Same as above but slightly lighter so a possible lunch option.
Awesome spot in the central square on the beach with a great atmosphere. Moules et frites here is the one and reasonably priced. Turns into a pumping bar / club in the evening. I once saw Chris Ward dancing on the bar with a bottle of tequila getting real loose, then the next day rock up 10 minutes late for his heat with his shorty wetsuit on back to front and come first. Must have been the tequila.
This is a bit more up market and nice for a quiet evening sampling a decent set menu washed down with reasonably priced wine. Good seafood, great stone-baked pizzas and massive salads if you’re watching your figure, something I wouldn’t advise doing in Hossegor.
This takeaway pizza place is located in Hossegor town centre and does awesome pizzas with some questionable toppings (foie gras, duck breast). A great spot if you can’t be bothered to cook at your condo.
Café De Paris
This is the café place right on the corner in the town centre. A real hub with great vibes. The best coffee in the world with a little biscuit is still €1 and they do a great set breakfast for €5. Once saw Dusty Payne park right outside (on a zebra crossing) get out shitfaced and come straight up to Harry, Will and I demanding a rollie. We rolled him said rollie and he got back in his car and wheelspan off somewhere at warp speed.
Where to stay
If you drive down you can live that romantic dream of sleeping in your car/ van in the car parks, cooking up beans in the boot etc, but that’s so 90’s man. These days the police will move you on, or you’ll get fined like £10 which is about the same as staying in a comfortable campsite so here are the best accommodation options:
There are ample campsites nearby that charge from £5 – £25 per night depending on your needs. Pretty much all sites are amongst the pine trees and are a cheap and fun way to get at one with nature, getting that real SW France feel. Wild camping is banned but we cycled through this area and camped in car parks etc no problem, just packed up before 8am.
Getting an apartment or house with a few mates is also decent as you have a place to chill out in the evenings and you’ll save money as a night out on the town, every night for a week is costly. It’s also a lot safer than camping as you can dump your stuff everywhere. Be careful though as there are some herrings out there. Errant Surf have plenty of approved options.
Strangely not too many surf camps in the area, but Welsh surfing legend Carwyn Williams has a good setup with fun vibes (and a lap dance pole in the middle of the living room?) The Koala Surf Camp is nice and well established, as is the Natural Surf Lodge.
Keep it frugal
It’s important to point out that a surf trip to South West France can quite expensive if you go about it the wrong way. For example having several beers in a bar at €7 a pop (if you want a pint) is harsh, a set menu for €15 is great value, but costly twice a day for a week and car rental companies can skank you for the smallest of things. So go to E.Leclerk and grab a crate of Kronembourg and some supplies and bvring your car if you can. Keep it frugal and you can stay longer, giving you more chance to get the barrel of your life.
Saying all this, we spent a week blowing a solid months budget partying with the WSL Pros all night, then watching them get spat out of the filthiest French tubes a few hours later and it was great fun…
If you like the idea of Hossegor, join Wavelength for a week of surf coaching with pros, fine food, good vibes and a little mingle with the stars, this September / October. More info here. If you’re into surf photography and want to learn from the best in this blessed part of the world, check this out.