A brief history of La Graviere’s nudie neighbour
I’m standing in the shorey of a French beachbreak on a steamy June morning, the first day of a last minute surf trip to Hossegor in the early 2000’s.
We’ve surfed fun, slightly wobbly running lefts with a light crowd, and my host, Welshman Carwyn Williams, multiple European champion, early Hossegor surf émegré and bon vivant, who’s showing me around town for the week gets the next wave in and dispatches a flourish of vertical backhand cracks on the leash-less, sleek, curvy Maurice Cole.
With warm late morning sun rising, I pull my wetsuit down to my waist.
Back on the beach now, Carwyn removes his suit completely. Flings it over the rail of his blade, strides nonchalantly across the beach, over the dune and through the car park, completely stark naked.
He stops to chat to some folk he knows, has a cheeky bang on a Moroccan hash bifta someone’s rolled, saunters back to the car with the carefree air of man at the very peak of his powers.
I only met him the night before, and I’ve already seen more cumulative time of his naked body than… any man alive.
Unhurried, he puts the Maurice back in the car, checks his phone, only ever reluctantly pulling on a pair of Billabong tracky bums at the very last minute before we drive off.
“Slater had a two wave hold down at Culs Nus on a big day in 2011 he claimed was the ‘Closest he’d ever come to drowning’ “
’88 Pipemaster and local resident Robbie Page is parked nearby in his legendary white Lada. I’d met him before briefly, and knew he was a master of quick, frank, often homoerotic-tinged quips.
“Carwyn… You’ve got a big dong, but you’ve got one eyebrow and you’re going bald.”
All assembled howl with laughter. Carwyn chuckles, the monobrow undulates in mirthful recognition of irrefutable truths. The only people to match French retirees’ collective relish for nudity, it seems, are washed up Australian (and Welsh) pros from the 80’s.
Everyone has some kind of nudism story from SW France, of course.
If you did surf trips here in your formative years, there’s a really good chance that the first time you saw a real life naked person beyond reproductive age was on the beach in Hossegor.
Personally, it was the first time I was confronted with the fact that all hair goes grey with age, not just hair on top of your head. Something I’d never had reason to consider prior to that point.
I’m still haunted by what I saw one flat early September day in 1994, in many regards.
Years later, after having moved here, I’d often bump into my then girlfriend’s dad on the beach at Culs Nus. I’d come for intimate knowledge of a sweetly bending sandbar, but leave with the knowledge that todger, bum cheek and face were deeply bronzed to the exact same tone. Again, knowledge I’d gladly have unburdened myself of, if only I could.
Part time nudity enthusiast and INTL podcast co-host Ben Mondy recalls meeting his Aussie mate’s French wife’s parents on the beach in Hossegor during a particularly hungover surf check one day.
Handshake with monsieur, double cheek kiss with madame. Nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that they were both naked.
Of course, a basic to intermediate knowledge of French should serve fair warning. Les Culs Nus (Coo-nu) literally translates as ‘bare bums’, if you went to a beach with the same name in England, you’d expect it to be a naturist beach, it even says so on the signs as you climb the path.
Exactly a hundred years before Carwyn and my session, in 1903 Frenchman S. Gay created a naturist community at Bois-Fourgon, a few years later Abbé Legrée encouraged the students at his catholic college to bathe nude on the rocky beaches near Marseille. Dedicated publications, magazines, nudist colonies and eventually legislation enshrining the right to be in the buff followed.
Heliotherapy, literally sun bathing for health was a French idea, as indeed was bronzing itself, made popular by Coco Chanel (prior to that, being tanned was seen as the mark of a peasant, field worker life among the pale, fashionable elite). Champions of the nudist cause pursued early forays into vegetarianism alongside their love of shunning clothing.
The wave itself at Les Culs Nus can make an argument as having the world’s finest nudist beach surf; it can certainly be the best break in Hossegor on its day.
It’s generally a more local pro orientated crowd than popular neighbours to the north, and generally where you’ll see the most high performance surfing around town. And while not Graviere, can get dangerous, too.
Slater had a two wave hold down on a big day in 2011 after which he claimed was the “closest he’d ever come to drowning.”
For a few years in the early 2010’s Culs Nus was the go to site for the Quik Pro France, when la Graviere went away and Culs Nus was holding lethal flaring tubes out the back.
The bizarre juxtaposition of elite international athletes, live broadcast cameras, thousands of travelling spectators and a venue that comes with its own determined, resident nudists kind of sums up the European surfing experience at its finest.
A bizarre, at times beautiful confluence of radically distinct sub-cultures bumping into each other at the water’s edge, getting along just fine.
Photos by @lugarts