Alt Surfing blog - West Coast of France.

        I'm here in the North West of France in Bretagne for the second time this year. It's the beginning of Autumn and The days are getting shorter. The shops and restaurants of Audierne are shutting and the crowds thinning out. The harbour is calm, but the perpetual sound of storms that lay beyond its walls.

    I first came out here in April in early spring in the van and discovered some things about myself and the surf culture of France. 

     Getting the Ferry back in April was eerily familiar to the trips I took with family as a child. The port scene being a favourite and the same faces were there; Lorry drivers, travellers and cyclists filing onto the giant vessel with the smell of diesel everywhere. 

     The crossing was choppy (as I'm discovering they are especially in winter!) and the pitching and rolling kept me up all night but a walk around the decks in the night's sea air felt an exciting beginning to the surf trip. 

             Stepping off the ferry in a daze I thought it fit to get straight back into the sea, my body already accustomed to the washing machine like movements. This reminded me of a time i'd lived on a boat, and how my senses rejected stable footing on land. 

         So I found the nearest beach and surfed it. Luckily I met a young French man who was also keen on these poor surf conditions. We surfed and talked and it felt like the trip had begun. 

       "you want to head down to La Torche, that's where there's real waves" 

      I thanked him and made a note of this, for any tips given under these circumstances would be forgotten immediately. 


    My first few nights were spent getting accustomed to living in a van for the first time, with my collie dog for company. On a campsite in a small fishing town Port de Mogueriec, looking out over a setting sun, I did just that. 

     In the campsites restaurant The cook and owner of the campsite was blasting out Pink Floyd and preparing the most Nobel burger I have ever had, thank you sir. I never realised the meaning of the lyrics to comfortably numb, until that moment.   

     After some adjusting that comes with life on the road, and a therapy session via zoom, I made my way down to La Torche.  


        Now theres a part of me that wants to write here that; There was pumping swell and oh the waves were barrelling and the people were beautiful etc etc. However, I recently discovered that it can become quite boring if fixation occurs on these details, and that I much prefer the weirder angel. I spent most of this trip writing poetry after getting a bit too wired, hunting down photos of perfect waves for an article for a surf magazine, that I would never write, Thankfully. 

        The poems though were fun to write especially having a lot of time on my own in unknown camps, or car parks. There is a large part of me that wants to be successful and I can lose anything that's real when I allow that part to take over. Anyway back to the road. 

        After La Torche I felt like a hobo of sorts, alike so many that I have admired in books and songs over the years. The sandy car parks became my dust bowl blues, in the windy mornings and nights, and the people I met along the way became my hobo tavelling companions. 

       And in one type car park in St Pierre Quiberon, I met a lovely Norwegian travelling companion whom I spent the next few weeks with, as we made our way to the south of France\ north Spain. As a twosome we befriended other travellers and locals who we shared time, stories and life with. For a dust bowl blues is more fun experienced as a few.  



            By night we talked about past lives and future dreams, and by day we were lucky enough to surf some great waves here in Quiberon, a relatively unknown peninsula of surf. 

          My first experience of the waves here were of a powerful stormy mess. I paddled out here with fear of the unknown, that comes at every new surf spot. After ending up on the rocks and getting out, I had the luck of meeting Mik a surf coach out of blue dream surf school.

           A real character whose love for the ocean is only matched by his shadow self that I could identify with so much. But those are stories for another time. 


                     Mik told me about a recent hit that some begrudging locals had put out on anyone they deemed "non - local", spay painting all the cars and vans they could. Other than a few words here and there I didn't witness any other hostilities. But there's no doubt that surfing can draw a low denominator to the scene. The price we pay for wildness of man, and the energy the sea. 



       One photographer called Fotsy I managed to connect with, captures this energy in a series of photos I haggled to get my hands on for said article. Here they are: 

          When the waves are in the darkness and the stars are so bright, probably because there are no street lights for miles around, a BBQ on the beach is a beautiful thing. Looking out into the darkness on such a night I'm reminded of the past. My past but also the past past - here on this little peninsula is where the battle of Quiberon Bay was fought in 1759. And as the waves crash in the dark you can almost see the ships like they are coming back with past grievances.

   It's hard to leave a place when I meet nice people, good waves and beautiful surroundings; the car park here will always draw a part of me back to it. Here are a few photos by Paulina Cervenka that capture the scene beautifully.



    One of the problems with, "having a problem" with surfing is; it can eclipses everything else in my life. In those times I have to surrender it like all my other addictions. But at it's feverish height I'm nervous by what lengths I'd go to. I often imagine surfing the wave of an apocalypse at the end of days. The waves get bigger and the destinations more intimidating. But hey it's just for fun. 

   The other problem is those waves can disappear as quickly as they rolled in, leaving a void. The calmness can be a daunting thing, but needed in order to recover, and get in touch with one's self. 

  This was the situation for the next leg as we made our way south; small waves, fun encounters with interesting hang gliders, and the burnt out coast lines of Lacanau.

     Lacanau is a long coast line at the foot of a national park, mid France. I didn't know about the past fires until I drove through the burnt out forests and passed numerous campsites that had been forced to close. I felt relief to have found a camp spot after a long drive but also an eerie feeling that this place gave off. A kind of quiet grief set in amongst the natural beauty of the coast line.  

   The last words that were said, to me before we headed south too hopefully bigger waves were: 

    "Hosseggor was notorious for being hostile for outsiders, and had quite the reputation back in the day".

  I try not to take hearsay to heart, but there was something about this scorched place that put me into fear. The words were from a hang glider that Paulina had been shooting and talking with. He lived out of a car and dealt with life in his own way.  

   I sometimes can create or dwell on fear to get me through, and this is what I took with me, too Frances most powerful wave. 

  It's hard to say if I would have experienced things differently if the mans words hadn't of been spoken, but I definitely got some hostile vibes. To be honest I started getting these vibes after Bordeaux and found the north to be much more my scene. 

    The waves however lived up to their reputation; heavy and steep at La Graviere. I didn't spend much time here and quickly moved back to Capbreton, where I'd spend a week or so in a car park by a quiet break; getting eaten by mosquitos, and kept awake by kids having parties that went well into the night (trippy).  


   Being on the road, with a lot of time alone, can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. If you add surfing for a couple of hours a day into that, even more so. I lost a lot of weight. The more the days went on the more I became familiar with how it must be to live in an "older" free wheeling kind of way. I had to let go of some of the control and fears that plague me, unknowingly.

   Further South, with views of the Pyrenees, and in-between Biarritz and Bidart, was A small beach with a little hidden away car park with some cool waves for both long-boarders and short-boarders alike.

      For a repressed English man however - no matter how rebelled - I found the SW area over whelming. The people are fiery (can be rude) and beautiful. One morning unwashed and underweight a spontaneous photo shoot starts taking place. Models, photographers etc etc; It was time to move on and after some back and forth from a campsite I'd befriended, it would be time to gun it north, on a desire to flee the scene, back to the North! 

   After a long drive and a sore neck I arrived back at La Torche campsite, they remembered me and were very friendly. After a while on the road this was a relief and I decided to stay here for a few weeks.


     Staying in one place helps with meeting people. Lawrence on the pitch next to me was a fellow expat/ actor in his late fifties and we talked about England, literature and other subjects unique to conversations involving two Englishmen. Surrounded by other nationalities it felt a little like a scene from Fawlty towers, which made me chuckle, at least.



  La Torch, and its little brother Pors Carn, continued to provide fun waves but looking further a field I was discovering  other gems of Brittany's coast line.


    Cap Sizun or Capifornie to some locals, is a peninsula to the north and is where I continue the journey. 

   Storm Ciaran ripped through here recently which altered the landscape into a dramatic scene of snapped trees and demolished roofs. The waves that it made were monstrous and hunted the coast line like angry Gods. 

        Being a non-local takes a bit of hustle. Finding spots on this headland that suit the conditions is half fun and frustration in equal parts. I found that driving from spot to spot and then back to those same spots part of the process. Always seeming to arrive to locals with a glowing look about them after a good session. The tide then changing and as soon as my wet suit touches the water, nothing. Dog perseverance required but getting into harmony is, for me, most of what surfing is about. When everything lines up though...




      Scouting spots for oneself, I find, is a buzz. Here at what I'll call Where they rise, in the north western tip, is an eerie beach break. Often empty in winter with only old fishing boat launchers resting on the hill side as spectators to this powerful, hollow wave that rises up out of nowhere. It's apparently where the floating bodies would show up after shipwrecks, back in the day. Mix that in with a couple of shinning esq closed hotels and tuft's of fishing nets that stick out of the sand like lost hair pieces and viola - eerie.


 I took this shot with a cannon AE1 in 35mm, I like its truth in technology from a simpler time. It's softer and richer and slower. This is what it's been about, all this. A pile up of wanting to fit in, self discovery, coping and creating. The only originality that can come is the sense of tasting some truth of the writer. So maybe my next blog will walk towards this. There was fear, always fear, but hope and love too.





Popular Posts