Person, woman, man… camera.
No, not him.
A quick headcount – per metre squared of lineup – along the fair shores of Capbreton – Hossegor – Seignosse, August 2020. If the perceived Covid effects were distancing and localising production, there’s scant evidence in SW France as Europe’s great estival huddle tugs its face mask elastic down to double cheek kiss, the fruits of Far East watersporting goods factories production under arm.
Facemasks, hand sanitiser and softboards seem to be good businesses to been in for 2020. Who knew JOB board transferring in the pit at Pipe in aloha print pyjamas would be such a hit with Geneva plate Audi SUV mums?
While it was the run on bog roll that made headlines elsewhere or Red State middle ‘Mericans panic buying AK’s, Europe’s middle classes have been in a deep procurement phase on surf hardware. Faster than shelves could be restacked by someone now rebranded as a frontline worker, somewhere in a former cow shed in Soorts-Hossegor long armed, wedgie bummed women’s E7-Bombshell suits (thank god we finally solved the hot hamstring/cold forearm paradox) are the new self-raising flour.
“Surfing’s booming mate… how the fuck are we all broke?” ponders one former surf brand salaryman and former CT surfer, contemplating a Lowers-like dawnie peak with 90 people out.
Meanwhile, things literally are booming. A controlled explosion of a WW2 bomb found at the foot of the dune at Capbreton in early August was performed without casualty, more than can often be said of attempting to parking your vehicle.
Reports circulate of widespread lineup tussles, but nothing compared to the roads. An epic punch up went down in the car part at Biarritz airport (you only get 7 free minutes since the G7 renovations last year, yep – him).
By 3pm, beach carparks resonate with more horn honking than les gilet jaunes (remember them?) Heated words sound up and down, blood thickens and sticks to walls of neck arteries. A QS pro, recently stripped of his lucrative mountain wave sticker drops in, fades behind then grabs the board (JoB Log, obvs), ejecting the rider. “You’ve had too many waves.” “But I was on the inside” etc, etc. “Fuck you I live here”.
“Enculé, sale fils de pute” is the new ‘Getting a couple?’ The kind of language that’d make an Anelka l’Equipe front page headline blush, every set. Even the most liberal, internationalist, Snowboard Jacket For Refugees FB groupers suddenly become build the wall-ers when a lip gets crumbled on a 3ft right.
“We’re Gonna Drain The Swamp”
No. Not him. Napolean III, determined to emancipate Les Landes from a vast uninhabitable misery of eerie bogs and sand blown badlands by an ambitious dune building, pine planting public works. What were the sandbars like in 1857? Who cares? Surely not as good as summer 2020.
Sand still very much calls the shots around here. A van pulls into a soft sand trap lay-by… spinning wheels digging hopelessly deeper. Instantly, a posse of some half dozen other van lifers appears to lend a push despite the searing heat. Another local guy pulls over in a giant 4×4 pick up. Despite the general rancour, it seems, ‘Do unto thy neighbour’ is not yet dead. They rock it side to side, “Put it in second, ease her gently” advises one, the correct advice for getting out of Landes sands, as well as a serviceable mantra for surviving summer.
“I got shouted at a lot” one local says in a boulangerie queue of Super Thursday last week, when it was 5ft offshore, Indo-like and 40 degrees. “I don’t even know who by… You just gotta head down, and go.”
That appears to be the collective sentiment that echoed around The Continent from Munich to Rotterdam, Paris to Madrid… all just had to come. With air travel tricky, Europe realised that within a motorway’s drive of anywhere, deep green pine forests meets warm water thumping surf and best of all – surf shops. If you hold a map a certain way, literally all roads lead to Europe’s surfing capital.
If Sisyphus, in a moment of pragmatism finally let go of his rock, it would surely roll downhill from any and every point west of the Caucus Mountains and come to rest next to the lifeguard building at Les Estagnots.
Perhaps the biggest facilitator of water time since the leash, Zoom, means work can even be done from the sanctity of your own second, third or fourth home, there’s even heady talk of fibre optic internet sometime between now and the last icecap. “House prices are up 30% this year!’ crows one realtor, “Nobody wants to live in the city anymore.”
The tide rolls out and it’s on again, small but very well formed. One Encylopedia of Surfing entry gets run over twice in ten minutes, a former Chopes trialist told to “mind his own” by the instructor after getting a surf school foamie to the temple. SUPs, foils, bodywhompers, angry IG bikini model loggers, even a waveskier – last known one in the wild – churn relentlessly at the milky swash, as if trying to turn it into butter to survive.
A popular IG photog page, well aware that none of the above is conducive to likes or we’re not worthy emojis Photoshops out all the person woman man cameras to make the most beautiful of lie-neup shots, ironically sending yet more scurrying headfirst into the mixer.
A young stickered generation of Leo legacy Italian shredders paddles out together. When I say generation, not representatives of, but actually the entire, some thirty something of them descend the dune, with occasional parental (cool mums with sleeve tatts in the Winehouse goes to Canggu International Style) chaperone.
A middle aged cockney with a full size ‘England’ back tattoo who looks like he could be throwing patio furniture into a fountain somewhere near Baden Baden shouting ‘No Surrender’ in Stone Island shorts is giving private surf lessons in a rip bank shorey. The App pings just before reception fades over the dune to confirm the bank transfer has gone through. “Lub’ly jubb’ly.”
His pupil, a 28-year-old German with a Tomo Slater Designs and a convertable BMW M6, could have, a couple of generations ago, been squinting through his rifle sights for him from the Capbreton bunkers. But that’s all in the past now.
“But my last coach said….” starts Jurgen, not entirely happy that his 5’6″ beginner board isn’t getting him much tube time this morning.
‘One–Bomb-er–Har-ris…’ (probably) mutters coach instinctively.
If you look up the beach, you can just make out a group of coaches being coached on coaching on the mythical far bar. Guided one on one sessions are the new group of 20 panting lycra turds. It seems to mainly involve shouting “Paddle!… No, not this one!” Addiction to supervised instruction is now a thing, with an ever growing sub set of stricken individuals, often PR account managers, who can only surf if they’re paying someone a handsome hourly rate to watch them cockroach over the falls.
The former panini/Americain huts on the beach are all but replaced by calamari & wine sundown terraces frequented by Hugo Boss polo shirts chino short dads, the gentrification of the foreshore is complete. While wave riders were once broken toothed Welshmen feasting on cold baked beans and warm Kronenbourg in the car park, pariahs to the golf and lac oyster set, surfing is now very much the middle class thing to do.
Surfers were once locked in an awkward tribal war with Hossegor’s meta bourgeois sentiments, until someone figured out how to integrate the two; make surfing more expensive and acquisitive than golf. Genius.
Adriano de Souza winning a World Title after starting dirt poor with a 6 dollar surfboard was impressive, but now Euro privilege is boldly attempting the reverse record; spending over ten grand and still not getting to your feet.
It’s not just SUV’s full of high-end foamies for all the family though, customs are going through the roof too. “(Name withheld) couldn’t come from California due to Covid,” one French factory owner, whose custom orders do well enough to not need to stock shops, tells me. ” But his shapes don’t sell that well anyway and… he likes Trump.”
It’s said with the incredulity of meeting your first Flat Earther, you knew those people existed, but actually meeting one, and someone you kinda know…
Amid the chaos, the grasp for something solid, for meaning is real, but not easy on an endless expanse of shifting sands. One beautiful balmy evening, we’re beholding a reeling 2ft left, which from the correct angle looks like sand bottomed St Leu, with a tall goofyfoot single fin stylist, originally from California but now 30 odd years in town, fresh from a dozen deliciously thighburning backlit walls.
“When d’you last go right?” we inquire.
He chuckles, grimacing as another set stacks up on the left. “Not that long ago, really. I mean, I’ve been caught in the rip and had to get one in by accident. But actually paddled out to one, on purpose?”
He pauses to watch another set stack up for a five wave lineup shot.
“Probably 16, maybe 17 years ago…”
In an ever-turning world, you’d do well to choose your still point as carefully.