The ins and outs of the world tour’s latest stop.
When it comes to practical advice on surfing and travelling in France, few men are more qualified to offer it than Monsieur Dave Mailman.
The California native has been living in Hossegor since 1994, and in that time he’s worked as the European Marketing Director at Quiksilver, served as the President of the ASP Europe, edited a snowboarding magazine, commentated numerous professional surfing and snowboarding competitions, married, had kids, survived leukaemia, and surfed up and down the entire coast several times over. These days he’s busy working as the webcast announcer for the Freeride World Tour, but with the Quiksilver Pro France underway in his adopted backyard, we thought we’d ask him for some of the finer points on soaking up the culture over there.
France, like California, is a big place with lots of coastline. They’re similar in that the conditions get rougher and the water colder as you move north. When I first got to France it was relatively uncrowded. Now, as soon as there’s swell, and even more so when it’s small in summer, it’s a bit of a madhouse in the line-up. There are too many surfers who don’t surf that well, compared to California or Australia. There are tons of different kinds of waves. When they are on the beach breaks in Hossegor are truly world class. In the Basque Country south of Biarritz there are some really good reefs that hold up to four or five times overhead if you’re into that kind of thing. In Hossegor and Biarritz the Gulf Stream makes it trunkable for all of July and August. From Lacanau north you need a full-suit all year round. One thing France lacks compared to California is a few really epic point breaks.
As mentioned before, the general skill level is lower in France than in California or Australia, but they are catching up pretty quick. Otherwise, just like anywhere, there are some guys who fit the surfer by day/partier by night stereotype, the contest grom stereotype, the rich, Audi-driving, weekend surf/SUP yuppie, and then plenty of dudes who just bust their butts working and drop everything when the swell is up. Surfing isn’t ingrained in the culture yet as much as it is in California or Australia, but we are far from the days when people looked at your board-bag in the airport and asked if you had a hang glider inside!
Food is definitely something the French don’t take lightly. Lunch and dinner are almost always sit-down affairs where you can easily spend up to two hours at the table. Unfortunately, fast food is creeping into the culture slowly but surely. As far as dishes go, in the southwest of France you have to try the Magret de Canard (duck breast), the Confit de Canard (duck breast and legs aged and cooked in their own fat), grilled duck hearts, and of course, Foie Gras (duck liver) either hot off the grill or pre-cooked then served cold on toast. Also, since we’re on the coast, oysters on the half shell, steamed mussels and fresh fish are also local specialties. Funnily enough, you have to eat at very high-end restaurants to find escargots or frog legs on the menu.
In summer it’s all about the rosé wines, especially those from the Côtes de Provence. As far as reds and whites go, in Hossegor and Biarritz you’re only about ninety minutes by car from the Bordeaux wine region, so most of the wines you’ll drink will be from that area. If you’re in a restaurant the best thing to do is once you’ve ordered your meal, pick a few bottles in your price range and ask the waiter to recommend one. In the bottle shop or supermarket, if you spend more than 7€ on a bottle you pretty much can’t go wrong. In general, if it says ‘Grand Cru’ on it, it’s usually pretty good.
There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” (I don’t know what) about French women that makes them especially stylish, and especially sexy. It used to be that just being an English-speaking surfer in the southwest of France was enough to score. Now it’s almost a turn off. You need to seriously turn on the charm. Don’t offer to buy them a beer. A glass of champagne will go a long way, though. And learning a few words of French won’t hurt your chances either.
The Surf Fans
French surf fans are knowledgeable and passionate. Like everywhere, the groms are on the hunt for autographs, and Kelly is definitely the King. They love Jeremy Flores, and they have a special affinity for the Brazilians, too. They come to the beach early and stay late when the contest is on.
The Quiksilver Pro
What makes the Quikky Pro France a unique event is the changing nature of the breaks due to the really massive tidal swings. It can go from punchy tubes close to the beach at high tide to perfect peaks with long walls out the back on low tide. The best though are the days without too much tidal change, lots of swell, offshore, and the sand bar at La Gravière in top form. Then it’s like a cross between Pipe, Backdoor and Puerto Escondido. It doesn’t happen often for the contest, but when it does, it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s pretty much breaking a few meters off the beach too, so I don’t know if there’s a WCT event where the crowd can get any closer to the action. Also, Hossegor is a pretty small town, and the pros aren’t too afraid to mingle with the locals, so you can easily find yourself sitting at the bar having a chat with any of the Top 34 over the course of the waiting period. One very unique thing about France is that many towns still have beaches, or stretches of beach, specifically set aside for nude sunbathing. This year, as in quite a few years past, the Quikky Pro is being held on a stretch of beach called 'Les Culs Nus' (The Naked Asses). So it can lay claim to being the only world tour stop held at a nude beach.