The Hossegor Tourist Office shot a beautiful drone clip last week of the SW France resort showing empty streets, mellow morning mists hanging over the wetlands and empty beaches with crisp, offshore swells firing along deserted shorebreaks.
Enjoying the soothing images is not to downplay the underlying tragic aspect of the crise sanitaire (health crisis) as it’s known here, lost lives and livelihoods, but still, it’s a glimpse of what the lineups probably haven’t looked like since the 70’s.
And despite the legal restrictions and hefty fines – as well as the social stigma of breaking curfew – the allure of perfect waves with nobody out has been too much for some to be able to resist.
Last week, a group of three surfers had snuck out to a peak that is a couple of clicks from a beach car park and thus only accessible through the forest, when a passing Gendarme patrol helicopter seemed to have spotted them and changed course.
“The cops had machine guns pointed at them and instructed “Ne bougez pas!” (Freeze!) over the heli’s speakers”
They immediately exited the water and attempted to run up the dune and into the woods for cover, which was always going to be a struggle.
Getting a wave in and running up the dune is a good minute or more, and then there’s still the few hundred metres of the ‘silver dune’; the flat bit on top before the tree line.
Outrunning a heli on soft sand in a wetsuit, carrying your board is the stuff of anxiety dreams, unlikely to ever go well.
Anyway, the heli overtook them, got between them and the cover of the trees and tilted its nose down in front of them, so that the blades were whirring a lethal barrier between them and the forest.
Scary, to say the least.
As they sheltered behind their boards from all the sand and debris flying in their faces, the cops had machine guns pointed at them and instructed “Ne bougez pas!” (Freeze!) over the heli’s speakers.
The bird then landed and made the arrests.
With as yet undetermined hefty fines heading their way, one of the group said via a mutual friend that he just hoped his wife didn’t find out.
With lockdown set to end in France on May 11th, is it unclear as to whether surfing will be allowed again from that point, but the community seems broadly optimistic after some six weeks of strict lockdown, that at least some of France’s famed civil liberties will be restored.