It seems a 17-year-old, who had driven three-hours from Toulouse to Lacanau, wasn’t just there to check the surf. Not just because it was howling onshore, as it has been for the last three weeks, but because he was found by police with a six-kilogram bag of 80 percent pure cocaine. 

That bag was just one stash of more than 760 kilos of drug parcels with a potential value of $100m that have washed up on a 500 kay stretch of coast between Biarritz in the south and Nantes in the north. A local inquiry found that the tides started washing up the packages a month ago.

Philippe Astruc, the Rennes public prosecutor, said the packages “very probably” contained cocaine from South America. He said some of the packages were marked “diamante” or “brillante”, which were similar to packages reported to have washed up in Florida during Hurricane Dorian in September.

Beaches have been closed and air surveillance brought in as police try to stop the pure coke from entering the local market. However, for many surfers in this part of the world, they have seen it all before. 

In the early 2000s a similar batch of the drug washed up, primarily around the surf hub of Hossegor. Local surfers who, then as now, always scoured the15 kilometre stretch of coast north of Hossegor to constantly monitor the ever-changing sandbanks, were often the ones to discover the packages. It is a pretty safe bet to say that not all of them handed in their discoveries to the local gendarmes.

In fact even today it is rumoured that some locals still have kilos of coke from 15 years ago buried deep in the pine forests behind the famous breaks. At the time though the small town became awash with the drug. One local shaper famously kept a glassful in the shaping bay and used it to stimulate his, uhm, productivity and new designs. It is said that not all of those boards worked. Elsewhere normal family barbecues became all-night parties as the pure coke infiltrated the community. 

“I don’t think it had too much of a long term effect,” said one expat pro surfer who has lived in Hossegor for a decade or so. “But it was pretty hectic at first. There was probably 12 months or so where a lot of people had a lot of late nights.”

That is different to another wash-up, which occurred in the Azores, right where the annual Azores Pro is held on the island of São Miguel. That was in 2001 when a smugglers’ yacht washed up on the Atlantic Islands and ruptured its contents. The island of São Miguel was quickly flooded with high-grade cocaine – and nearly 20 years on, it is still feeling the effects.

Such was the quantity it was reported that at the time one man had apparently paid a friend 300 grams of cocaine just to charge his phone. Others bars were selling copos, or small beer glasses, that contained 150 grams of pure cocaine for €20 or forty bucks. Today Sydneysiders pay about $311 a gram for cocaine according to a 2018 Global Drug Survey. 

There were rumours that housewives were frying mackerel in cocaine, thinking it was flour, and that old fishermen were pouring it into their coffees like sugar. Not surprisingly the sudden arrival of half a metric ton of extraordinarily pure cocaine turned São Miguel upside down. Many residents died from sudden addiction and almost 20 years on the island has an addiction issue that still affects the community. 

Right now in France, the police are trying to stop that from happening. However, it is assumed there is more of the drug out there in the Atlantic. Most likely it will be surfers who will be the first to come across the packages. What they do when that happens will be a very personal decision. Our question is this; what would you do?