In 1991 I managed to persuade Stuart Jones and Richard Harvey to do a surf trip to the South of France. At that time Stuart and Ritchie in my opinion were among the best surfers on the Island.
I had never been there before but had heard many tales from Steve and Keith Williams, Dave Jacobs, Sid Pitman and others of great waves of the Cote de Basque, La Barre, Lafatania, Guethary, Bidart and Biarritz. Stuart had been to the south of France with his family when he was younger and Rich had been down earlier that year with Kirk Ray (which is another story………..).
We were interested in surfing the beach breaks around Hossegor, which we had seen articles in surf magazines such as Wavelength and Surf Scene as well as the odd surf movie clip.
We loaded up my VW Camper and got the ferry to Cherbourg. We had decided to break up the trip south with a stop at La Tranche sur Mer to get a few waves. When we got to La Tranche and checked the beach we discovered boats moored up (not a promising sign for pumping surf) we soon realised that we would need to drive up to Sables D’Olonne to get some waves. The local surf shop owner telling us that they only got waves in La Tranche in the winter on really big swells.
When we arrived at Sables D’Olonne it was low tide and the waves were small, but as the tide pushed up we had some nice shoulder high waves.
It was a great start to the trip with Stuart and Ritchie showing that they could mix it up with the French locals. I had borrowed a Canon Waterproof camera from Bryn Saunders and decided to try it out while we were there. Stuart pulled a few airs and soon seemed to have gained respect form all the surfers around us.
For three English lads aged between 19 and 22 years old it took a while to get used to the French attitude to clothing on the beach, ie, it was optional. We normally were not too keen on body boarders but in France for some reason we found we found it very easy to surf along side them.
One night we could see lots of flashing lights and loud music and thought there was some sort of party/rave/festival about a mile away so we decided to go and check it out. When we got there we found it was only a fun fair, but it had a great water log slide which was fun.
After a few days we packed up and headed down to the south. We set up camp on a camp site between Messanges and Le Vieux Port (Port D’Albret), Vieux Boucau. We were camping among the pine trees with only a few hundred metres of huge sand dunes between us and the sea.
We couldn’t wait to get to Hossegor and those famous beach break barrels. We were a little disappointed to find the swell was quite small but still got into the water immediately and straight away noticed the standard of surfing was very high. After about half an hour we realised we were out surfing with quite a few pros including Tom Carroll, Damien Hardman and others, who were there for the Rip Curl Pro.
By this time I wasn’t getting many waves so I went in and grabbed the water camera. Tom Carroll surfed right by me a few times and Damien Hardman was out without a leash and lost his board out in front of me. I grabbed his board to stop it washing up the beach and gave it back to him. Damien stopped to ask about my photography and if I had got any good shots. I didn’t know what to say. I had only used the camera once before but he was pretty cool and didn’t give me a chance to properly embarrass myself as he started paddling back out immediately.
The swell dropped off after this and we took off to check out Hossegor town, the surf shops and the pro surfers footprints in the paving slabs outside one of the shops.
It didn’t take us long to find the local bakery and discover the delights of fresh French bread and cakes (especially the cakes for Ritchie). We also sampled the local Creperie; one evening we were ordering our crepes and we didn’t know what ‘Chantilly’ was. We only knew basic school French and the waitress only a little English, so she decided to show us. Having had a few beers we thought it hilarious to tell her that in English it was called ‘jism’ and that is what she should tell the next English person who asked.
Ritchie was to be 20 in a few days and hadn’t had much luck with the girls so far so he made himself a sand woman (Rich says it was too much sun and no waves that led him too it), he also felt the need to show off with a local fisherman’s spear gun and fish catch. We really needed to get Rich into some good waves and soon.
We met up with a friend Angus and his girlfriend before Ritchie’s birthday and seeing as the waves were tiny we made the most of the cheap French beer and wine. The lack of decent surf meant that Ritchie’s 20th started early and was destined to end up messy, with way too much being drunk. We drank our total supply of alcohol dry and headed off to the local bar returning some hours later with several very nice grand biere glasses.
As is often the way the very next day the swell came up and it was cranking. We were all bleary eyed, very hung over and the waves coming through on the left were some of the best I had ever seen. When two guys started to paddle out we could see it was a good size too. We soon got ourselves together. This was what had come for, so we got into our wetsuits and paddled out.
The rip on the left was very strong and you had to continually paddle against it in the line up. Later that day I swam out to the right hander with the water camera but wasn’t too keen to be in the impact zone so most of the shots were from the shoulder.
The swell lasted nearly all week and it was soon obvious that we were staying at one of the best set ups along the coast as one day a load of pros including Tom Curren, Lisa Anderson, Michael ‘Munga’ Barry, Paul Russell and others turned up with Maurice Cole and a few Surf Photographers to surf our left hander.
Although, I did look like the poor cousin next to the others Surf Photographers.
Tom Curren was the stand out for me with a lovely style and making it look so effortless and Lisa, Munga, Paul and the others were ripping too. I’m sure at the time I thought I knew all of them, but now I’m not so sure. If any of you recognise who it is in the pics or think I have got it wrong please let me know.
We had such good waves that week that we didn’t need to travel further south and so many of the breaks we had heard about had to be left for another trip. France in September can be one of the best trips that a surfer can make and that year we certainly got our share.