Why you should go:
Frequent, strong Atlantic swells regularly pound gigantic French beaches. The people and history add an element of culture that can't be duplicated anywhere on Earth.
Nestled in the coastal surf community of southwestern France, Hossegor is wedged between Seignosse and Capbreton–two other consistent surf towns that each host annual ASP-sanctioned events, but neither have the prestige of the “Gor.” All year, large low-pressure systems originate in the northern Atlantic and travel thousands of nautical miles to bombard the sandbars with surf that ranges from two feet to twenty. The town itself is centrally located around Lac d'Hossegor, a lake that extends from the edges of the city to the beach.
It would be a massive understatement to say the weather changes dramatically. During summer the beach hosts hundreds of topless sunbathers, while the winters require five-millimeter fullsuits and booties to bear the cold that is often accompanied by freezing offshore winds. One of the most shocking features of the surf in Hossegor is its ability to change size and conditions in an amazingly short amount of time. A two-foot, onshore morning session on your trusty 5'11″ fish can easily be forgotten by lunchtime with an incoming tide and growing swell. It's not uncommon for a day like that to end up being six to eight feet and offshore until dark. A common misconception about the French is their attitude in the water. While some Parisians give traveling Americans enough stink eye to make you want to cram a baguette up their asses, most of the surfers in the South of France are surprisingly accommodating. Some will even point out a shifting sandbar and invite you to move down one of the long beaches to find a better spot.
When to go:
The ideal time to surf Hossegor is early fall. September and October have the best surf and the mega-crowded summer tourism has usually disappeared completely by then. The summer experience includes droves of Speedo-clad, European tourists with plastic beach balls and rubber surf mats. The winter, on the other hand, accommodates enough traveling surfers from down under to be nicknamed “Aussie-gor.”
Where to stay:
While much of Europe accommodates travelers in communal youth hostels, Hossegor is better visited in a rental house or cheap hotel. Due to the extreme seasonality of the beach culture in Southern France, there are a number of rental options within walking distance located around the lake. Check out touradour.com/immo/petit to explore some rental options.
Where to eat:
French cuisine can be the finest food in the world if you know where to go and have an open mind. If you don't mind driving a few minutes south toward Anglet, a neighboring surf town that is home to the Quik Cup, you can find West Side Cafe. Fresh-squeezed lime-juice margaritas are the specialty of this reasonably priced, five-star, Tex-Mex restaurant owned and operated by Pierre-John, who actually lived in Leucadia, California during the 1990s. It's good to familiarize yourself with the French names for foods, as menus aren't always printed in English, and waiters are sometimes less than revealing about the contents of a dish.
*Party at Rock Food bar
*Skate Hossegor's indoor skatepark
*Eat a giant baguette at Panini Show in Anglet
*Ability to convert miles to kilometers
*Euro-rail pass for a trip to Mundaka
*Extra 7'4″ in case it pumps
Look out for:
Quickly changing conditions can be dangerous. Four foot and fun can turn into eight foot and scary in an hour, and endless sets from outside sandbars can drill you for what will seem like an eternity. Remember that those same conditions that got out of hand so fast can also clean up just as quickly. Be sure to exercise patience and keep an eye on the locals–they know where the sneaky sandbars are that can turn on with the slightest change of the tide.
The cost of living in Hossegor is very reasonable during the winter. The summer months get a bit pricey due to the seasonal crowds, but you shouldn't have too much of a problem converting your dollars now that the continent has united itself with a single currency–the euro. One euro basically equals one U.S. dollar, give or take a few cents. If funds are tight, try selling your boards on the way home. A new Channel Islands can go for about $700 U.S. if you're lucky. One less board to carry home saves you money with the airlines, too.
If you're like most traveling surfers, you'll be blown away by and romantically drawn to this place, just like you were to your local beach when you first started surfing. Keep in mind, there are toilets in Hossegor that are older than the White House, and even though surfing is a young sport, in France, history is everywhere you look. Being conscious of that single fact will earn you a certain level of respect and pleasantly surprise your French hosts.