I didn’t expect the weather and ocean temperature to be warmer in France than in Southern California. But as I emerged from the Easy Jet flight in Biarritz after a long flight from San Diego via Paris, it felt like a hot Santa Ana day back home.
About an hour later I found myself at the Cote de Basque beach in Biarritz packed with vacationing families, stand-up paddlers and about 50 kids learning to surf in the 1- to 3-foot low-tide sideshore-offshore emerald waves.
Just another perfect fall day in southwest France, the best place on earth for a surf trip that combines great waves, outstanding food and cool cosmopolitan surf culture.
Surfing in the fall in France means enjoying the change of seasons with sunny skies and ocean temperatures that keep surfers in spring suits or short-arm fullsuits through the end of October.
I was in France’s Basque country for the second time in a few months. In July my sons and I had combined a family visit (my dad’s family is French and lives in Paris) and took a Basque country detour for five days to sample waves I had dreamed about surfing since I first read a Surfer Magazine article about France back in the late ’70s.
This time I had been invited to speak at the inaugural Global Wave Conference that took place in Biarritz and San Sebastian Oct. 24-25, organized by the Surfrider Foundation Europe.
So along with surf conservationists from around the world, I found myself overlooking offshore barrels at Biarritz’s Grand Plage from the Bellevue Conference Center.
“You should have seen how good it was in September,” said Gregory Le Moigno of the Surfrider Foundation Europe, who had invited me to Biarritz along with surfer conservationists from South Africa, Australia, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, England, Japan and the U.S. “It was perfect almost every day.”
My time in France only reinforced my opinion that Biarritz has emerged as the European surf capital. There are plenty of surf shops, arguably the best “surf” restaurant in the world (Le Surfing), hundreds of outstanding surfers, and enough breaks along the coast to keep the crowds down (compared to California).
For surfers, this is the place for you to bring your significant other to divide time between the water and enjoying the sights of the Basque countryside and taste of some of Europe’s best food and wine (Bordeaux is a couple of hours to the north).
With their red-tiled roofs, aqua shutters, outdoor cafes, and a laid-back surf culture that is Laguna Beach meets Paris (but in a completely unpretentious way), the small towns that lie north and south of Biarritz, Saint Jean de Luz, Guethary, Anglet, and Hossegor, provide a great respite for surfers seeking to balance a surfing holiday with something extra.
My base at the Hotel Amaia, a simple surf boutique hotel (with free breakfast and high-speed free Wi-Fi) a few walkable blocks to the beach, was a perfect location for nearby surf and day trips.
“I love visiting the little towns up in the mountains,” said Zach Plopper of WiLDCOAST, who studied here while an undergrad at UCSD, and spent a lot of time living in his car in the seaside parking lots while competing on the European WQS circuit. “After a great surf in the morning, it is nice to get away to and eat good food.”
The sandbars around Hossegor provide endless opportunities for empty offshore barrels. If there is a crowd at one sandbar, just walk down the beach to the next one.
Saint Jean de Luz and Guethary are home to reef and pointbreaks waves with wonderful cafes that overlook the surf and stunning coast.
While in the U.S. the stereotype of unfriendly and rude service in France still persists, I was pleasantly surprised overall by how friendly everyone was and how when I attempted to speak in French (I speak passable “surf” French), most everyone I dealt with immediately switched to English.
During my last evening in Biarritz, I walked around the nearby Les Halles district, a short walk away from my hotel. I wandered into the inviting, warm and colorful Le Bistrot de Halles, with colorful early 20th century posters. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a grilled steak and fish soup.
After a long day that had started out with a great surf in overhead offshore barrels, I appreciated the hearty and delightful soup, a perfect steak and crisp frites, warm smiles and attentive service.
So make your plans now to enjoy surfing France next year, the best surfing experience that fall has to offer.
You won’t regret it.
Note on Travel: I flew to Paris on Air France and Biarritz via Easy Jet. Air France doesn’t charge for surfboards if they are under 6 foot 6 inches, but you have to “register” your board in advance (check their website). The service and food on Air France was excellent.