In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

by Joel Gray

Hossegor in summer is a right of passage for anyone connected in any way with surfing. If you are a WCT-training pro you have to be there. If you’re a King of the Groms wanabee you have to be there. If you want to learn to surf you have to go there. If you want to score chicks you go there. If you want to get naked you go there. If you want to be loose or even serious about your surfing you go there. If you want to party, party, party you go there. And if you have a camper van, dreads, a smelly dog, bongos and juggling balls, apparently you have to be there too.

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Surf Consistency: 7  Wave Variety: 3

Climate: 6  Radness: 3  Budget: 4

Mid 1990’s was when I first started the annual pilgrimage along with the rest of the Geordie collective. The general attraction was probably spurred on by the fact that the east coast of England is like the Etang Blanc lake in summer. We had to go somewhere to get waves and the initial attraction of Hossegor can be summed up be Keen Ken’s reaction upon being first told the tales of that first summer in 1993.

“What, 6ft, Offshore an that?…."

“Aye. Lasses on the beach, pooozies oot…."

“Strites?..."

“Barrels foreva..."

“Nee way man!"

Ken is now a grown up who was known around Tyneside for amongst others things his general over excitement about surfing. Upon returning from the first en-masse Hossegor trip in the summer of 1993 the boys recounted the legendary days of surfing beach break barrels, cheap wine boxes, sleeping under the stars and wandering along beaches eyes bulging at the chicks with not only their baps out, but everything. Ken nearly fell over and from then on summers meant nothing other than Hossegor, pure and simple.

The game plan was straight forward. About 12 of us would club together a few hundred quid each and buy 3 big vans. Renault Traffics were the vehicle of choice and someone would take charge of decking out the back so that they could sleep 4 teenagers each for the whole summer. Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chilli Pepper mix tapes were cut and French francs exchanged with the left over cash.

The wheels rolled southbound across the Tyne Bridge in convoy and aside from brief bites of Lacanau they wouldn’t stop till we could wind down the window and smell the pine forests’ sticky tang. The destination was the beautiful hot tarmac playground of the Estagnots carpark.

Days were spent almost exclusively in the car park and no matter what the quality of the bank, we’d surf out front and after a couple of months you’d know every grain of sand like the price of a the cheapest crate of 33’s. If it got too hot at night or Davey started farting you’d sleep on the beach and if it started raining you’d go under some ones porch. We upgraded to the Municipal campsite the next year and our whole area was christened ‘Muscle Ranch’. A melange of tents, surfboards, sweat and grot. The kings of our own castle in another world for a few weeks at least.

For evenings entertainment those first trips involved nothing but beach drinking, with the occasional amazed look in the window of Rock Food but nothing more. Sat around in circles drinking the cheapest wine possible sending people off to different groups on various missions. “Go and find a lighter, …get a bottle opener …., get those chicks to come over…!" Things like going for a piss up against the piss wall and bumping into OCCY. ‘Wow!’ Walking back and bumping into 2 semi naked Dutch girls and never quite making it back to the circle. Wow, wow!

In the teenage freedom of South West France in the good old days, paying for expensive supermarket goods at Intermarche, Capbreton, was not an option.

There were two methods of attack. One was you got the stuff you wanted and simply walked back out the way you walked in. This worked a treat until they cottoned on and posted a big, bald fella in an ill fitting suit near entrance for most of August. This left the only way out as being the actual way out. So you’d drink your YOP while shopping, put it back in the aisle, go and pay for your emmental, or whatever, and hope that what you had in your pockets didn’t fire up the security barrier.

Needless to say things escalated a little so that teams were going in mid summer with huge winter jackets. More jackets equal more pockets. It was a trend that transcended national barriers and essentially focussed on getting a prime filet steak out of there for the cost of a packet of chewing gum. Things reached a head when a couple of the older boys invited a gaggle of well–spoken, ultra hot German chicks around for a barbeque at Muscle Ranch.

The challenge to impress was on. The lamer ones amongst us popped a steak down the Y-fronts as usual but the real champions had the parka jacket pockets full. Stigg walked out with 3 bottles of Jack Daniels and Chuff with a stack of CD’s. But the winner had to be Sprock who at 5’2" took on the largest fish in the shop. I think it was a salmon. As Sprock walked up to the counter a the rest of us were bent double at the yoghurt aisle in hysterics. The tail of the thing was coming straight up through his parker giving his ear a little tickle, just about hidden by his lion like locks. At the other end the salmon’s tongue was popping out the bottom of his 100% Mambo shorts.

"There’s something about that sweet pine smell that screams freedom"

Hossegor was and is a learning experience. Like snapping your leash and swimming in and having 2 fully naked, shaved and oiled men hand deliver your board. It was about the whole team getting beaten up at the Fete De Tyrosse and having Tyrosse 1 - Geordies 0 plackarded on the side of the van for the weekend.

Those first summers were an adventure of allsorts, way beyond just the surfing. Robbie Hildreth and Chris Eyre, the kings of Saltburn Pier, put a bag of crabs in Gabe Davies’s radiator, the smell of which kept going long into winter. It was about trying to speak all sorts of foreign languages, about getting canny good at ordering croissants and confident with inappropriate chat up lines but not much else.

The scoring of occasional classic days and always having some sandbar waves to play on. Seeing ‘magazine surfers’ for the first time, naked girls asking you for the time and ‘sharing’ a beer with a legend. It was about the drive down in anticipation and the drive home with tongues full of tales made up from all that went in between.

There’s something about that sweet pine smell that screams freedom. It’s a powerful aroma, one that wafts just as strongly today as it did in 1993.