COUNTRY GUIDE: FRANCE
Headed to France this September? You're probably already here! Here's SE's rough guide to the Hexagon
Qu’est ce que c’est?
Located pretty much in the middle of western Europe, France is a big country with a long Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline. The north is very much northern, and looks not dissimilar to Britain, while the southeast is a different prospect altogether, where hilltop villages can look like the Holy Land. With the Bay of Biscay on its left flank, France tends to cop almost any kind of North Atlantic swell (except tropical/south), without Britain’s blocking landmass in the form of Ireland to quieten things down from the raging north. Much of the north and north west is made up of sweeping bays, cliffs and large tidal estuaries, while the SW is basically one long straight featureless beach that goes for about 200km.
The surf in the Landes is often heralded as ‘the best beachbreaks in the world’ which is a big call, but occasionally true-ish. Either way, it’s pretty good. Unlike a lot of famous surfing destinations, it can be pretty good in the wrong season, and it’s not uncommon to get a couple of solid 6ft swells in July/August. That bit further south from the path of the mid-latitude depressions, west wind accompanies less of the swells, although seabreezes are the norm on warm days. The water is freezing in winter and trunkable in summer. Summer is also renowned for boobies. Lifeguards are generally fairly unconvincing, and seem at odds with the general groovy magic of surfing. The French have a fetish for paper qualifications, and a surf school instructor’s course, being no exception, takes about a year.
You can say what you like about the French but they make the best little cakes, ever. They also excel at wine and cheese, do a decent line in shower gel, yoghurts and antibiotics. They tend to sleep in complete darkness (shutters closed) making them not great in the morning, and like to stay up late. Despite a rich diet, they are generally thin, presentable and quiet in public places. They are also (although in vehement denial) madly in love with all things American, from urban sprawl to rock n’ roll to drive thru burgers to hip hop. In a curious aside, England’s Phil Collins gets more airplay in France than the rest of world put together. They adore cigarettes.
France turned onto surfing in the 1950’s in Biarritz, which has since been home to a proud longboard scene. Today, the SW is home to about 95% of European pro surfing’s wage bill, and boasts an impressive list of talent from XXL winners to Top 10 WCT-ers to pro junior world champs. Curiously, in the SW, recreational female surfers are scarcer than a rasher of bacon (they dice it into little cubes), girl surfers in the water are either local pros, or foreigners. Not the most cheerful folk you’ll ever meet, French surfers tend to look disgruntled.
Nosh: Chocolate pastry for breakfast, horse for dinner
Litre unleaded 95: €1.50
Their hero: Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Useful expression: “Non, non, non, non, non, non…" (wiggle index finger)
Fact: Croissants are Austrian, Le Corbusier was Swiss, French fries are Belgian, berets come from the Spanish Basque Country.