DRIVE THROUGH FRANCE
Our story happens in France. It involves a trailer loaded with stand-ups, surfboards, foils and all kinds of gear to make the most of the conditions, five young riders and a photographer. A real
watersports gathering where there is only one rule: to be in the water regardless of the conditions.
Words Raf Filippi // Photos Manu Morel
Driving young riders of different origins around various spots has been a project of mine for many years and November is the best time to discover France’s spots with the maximum of chance of scoring good conditions. I hatched a plan to take five teenagers aged between 12 and 17 on an improvised surf trip, following the forecast. Our goal: to surf, to discover new things and to make new friends. Aspiring windsurfers, free skiing or downhill mountain biking champions, all of them are wave enthusiasts and can stand-up paddle. They received a text a few days before with the simple task to get ready for days of adventure. . All they needed to bring was a sleeping bag and a wetsuit.
Edgar, 17 years old, is the alpha of the team. He lives in Annecy and is one of the most promising young skiers of La Clusaz. He won his first title of French ski freeride champion last winter before spending his summer to train to be on top for his next season on the Free Ride World Tour. As comfortable on the snow as in the water, he spends a lot of time in Hossegor where his grandparents have a house. He has a really good level in surfing, skateboarding, wakeboarding and also kitesurfing. SUP is for him a physical exercise that is practiced on flat water to refine his cardio. We had to show him that surfing with a paddle was also a pleasure!
15 years old, Tom lives not far from Carro, in Sausset les Pins. He started surfing early and now enjoys the big winds that sweep the blue coast through SUP and windsurf. Also an excellent skier, and he discovered downhill mountain biking a few years ago. His ease in the air and his ability to unplug his brain quickly made him the new French champion of downhill MTB. He grew up stand-up paddling and his level in waves is quite impressive considering his age and his size.
Son of a windsurfing enthusiast, Estéban, 13 years old, spends most of his time in the water. Whether in the waves or on the flat to train, paddle surfing occupies a good part of his extra-curricular activities as soon there’s no wind. Living in Aix en Provence, this trip will be for him the opportunity to discover the surf potential of south west France.
It was important to put a little femininity in our team but not just to have a pretty smile on our images – you would have trouble keeping up with her in the mountains. 7th in Europe in freestyle skiing, she has been kiting for two years and has always surfed during the summer in Hossegor. Astrid has just turned 15 and SUP was not her favourite discipline before joining us. Also rides horses at a high level.
Living in Carro, Cesar did not really have a choice but to become an aspiring waverider! He was surfing his first waves on a stand-up before he could even swim. He is not a racer, but a wave lover. Forced to join the trip since he is my son.
In addition to being one of the best watesports photographer around, Manu would have to learn how to manage a kids’ summer camp! It was new to him and I felt a little apprehension from the parents the day we left. Especially because we had our eyes riveted to Windguru to try and sketch out an itinerary. “We will surely be between Carro, the Camargue, Leucate… or maybe Gruissan and Biarritz or Hossegor with a small detour to Brittany”. The mums were giving us anxious looks. As usual, I went the extra yard just to reassure them: “We’re not sure where we’re going to sleep, and haven’t got much budget for food, but we do have spearguns.” At that moment, even the dads were eyeing me suspiciously.
After one last consultation with Windguru, we hit the road for the south west were some consistent swell was forecast for next few days. We arrived early on the famous Estagnots beach, next to Hossegor but the thick mist made it difficult to see the waves coming in and impossible to take pictures. The waves were already a good 1.5m with the real swell arriving tomorrow. Between the lack of visibility and the falling night, I ended up losing the team but was happy to find them back at the guest house! Between the fatigue of the road and the session, the first evening was more like a curfew with lights out at 20:30! We fell into a surf-circadian rhythm set our meeting point for 07:30 the next day on the beach.
I had forgotten that the sun rises later in November. At 8:30, the first rays finally illuminated the beach. It’s also 7 degrees and the sand is dusted with frost. Since the wetsuits were still soaked, the team had lost some gusto for this session. The tide was perfect, the wind slightly offshore and Manu was grinning. Edgar, Astrid and Caesar started the day surfing while Tom and Estéban hit the water paddle surfing. It’s a tough paddle out, but there is a strong spirit in the team, and they all bravely ventured out. The wave increases in power as the tide drops, which makes the spot difficult when it’s low. Estéban and Caesar are around 33 kilos ringing wet and the swell starts to come more and more violently. We spent the whole day in the water with only a one hour break to eat. Needless to say the evening in the night club that I had planned was swiftly cancelled!
Leo, the Hero!
Our second day at Les Estagnots was a real surf coaching day with Léo Fioraventi, an Italian pro surfer who lives there. Open-minded, Leo gives precious advice to the team. The kids are totally captivated by his level of surfing, his powerful carves and the stature of this Red Bull Italian teamrider.
Edgar impresses us with his commitment and sneaks into little barrels and comes out… with his board in two pieces! Leo gave him a good tip off to find a new board at an unbeatable price. Tom amazes us with his skills. His board has become much too small for him after a massive growth spurt. He cannot paddle anymore but it does not stop him from taking waves and popping up with his paddle in his hand. He ends up with a tiny board under his feet allowing him to express his surf style. His board will be much more suitable for our two crickets, Estéban and Caesar who are 66 kilos between them and rip on Tom’s mini SUP until sunset.
As time and waves pass, our small team spends time frothing and inventing challenges. Astrid puts all her femininity in stylish surf and SUP longboard sessions. She knows that this is the perfect gear to by-pass surfers and to catch waves. To catch them, but also to surf them with style, gracefully walking to the nose of her boards. Edgar wasn’t that keen at first about the idea of using a SUP in waves. But he’s open minded and adapts quickly to his Pro Wave and finally gets out of the water with a big smile on his face.
Usually, SUP and surfing stop when the waves disappear at high tide. Given the size of the swell and the evolution of foiling, this is a bygone era. The foils allow our riders to enjoy the spot in a whole new way. Leo Fioraventi and Edgar discover the joys of flying over the water on carbon blades. Les Estagnots offers up flight lines of more than 200 meters at sunset. Manu is thrilled and takes beautiful backlit pictures.
After five days in the Landes, here’s what our team had to say:
Edgar: “Great start with punchy waves and high performance surfing. I broke my favourite board in two… otherwise, everything is fine!”
Esteban: “Tiring because of coach’s pace, but I made big progress in SUP and surfing. I cannot wait to come back.”
Astrid: “Great surf but my neck and armpits are raw from my wetsuit and my nose is irritated by the smell of Caesar’s farts in the dormitory!”
Tom: “It was great and I loved the Estagnots beach break. I grew 15cm in one year and I realized that my SUP and surfboard were too small.”
Caesar: “Really great first days even if it was really cold in the morning. A crazy level on the water and I cannot wait to come back this summer!”
Back in the Mediterranean
Our journey to the South West will leave full-body fatigue and wetsuit tans with the entire team. Spending eight hours a day in the waves is not easy. It’s time to return to the Mediterranean coast to enjoy the wind, waves and mild temperatures of autumn. Our team enjoys a few windy kite and windsurf sessions on the way back in Leucate and Gruissan before making a stop at Port Saint-Louis in the Camargue, for an improvised landboard session. The landboard, with a kite or a windsurf sail, avoids going into the water for a day to heal the kid’s wounds. It is also an excellent opportunity to make other injuries to the knees and elbows. Even with a small breeze, these things go really fast! After a second dry day at the Marignane skate park (one of the best skate parks in France), it is time to get back to the water. Stand up paddling is ideal physical conditioning. We organize a small beach race circuit on Carro’s beach, it’s a great way for everyone to have blisters in the evening! The atmosphere is great in the turquoise water, typical of the blue coast. Manu will use his speedlights at dusk for a shoot with the Blitz, the new fanatic race board. Astrid is really photogenic but exhausted and frozen!
As every autumn, the Mistral blows consistently and we for a downwind session on Berre’s pond. It is the simplest and the safest place to organize such a session with kids, without the fear of losing them. Edgar discovers that the SUP is excellent physical training and that gliding with the wind in the back, trying to connect bumps is a really fun exercise. The little ones of the gang (Caesar and Esteban) are still too small for this type of downwind and had a fun session of SUP in the waves just in front of the house. Esteban even managed to fit in a mini Mediterranean tube! We heard about it all evening!
The days follow each other and are never alike. We even had the chance to try to foil from a pontoon. That is: a foil surfing session, starting from a pontoon, and pumping to generate speed to fly over the still water. Huge fun but we are still very far from Kai Lenny’s level. On the other hand, everyone is motivated to walk in the footsteps of the Hawaiian waterman!
No more laughing
The adventure ends with two days to catch up on school commitments like maths homework. I leave this to the parents. All the kids made great progress in a short time, and I leave them with a very personal and powerful advice for their future life as pro riders, like surf specific vernacular: “Fark it’s hollow and draining off the reef” rather than “the wave seems fast and quite shallow”. They also had to learn how to adjust a foil, how to liven up an evening with two tins of beans, how to adjust their paddles, how not to take a shower for twelve days without anyone noticing it. These are sacred rider tricks that are passed down from generation to generation and that their parents just won’t understand. I just hope they had a great time and that we get together again soon for new adventures.. SUP International