Where: The verdant west coast of Rà‡union, in the southwestern Indian Ocean.
What: A volcanic dot of tropical French idyll, flavored with Creole, Indian, African, and Chinese culture, endowed with some of Earth’s finest natural beauty.
When: April through July, when the Roaring Forties spawn oodles of swell headed straight for Rà‡union’s west coast. Instead of wallowing in next summer’s sloppy red-tide waves at home, you could be pulling into Rà‡union’s turquoise tubes and whacking whackable left-hand lips ’til the cows come home.
Why: Remember Occy ripping Saint-Leu in those old Billabong videos? That’s reason enough to hop halfway around the planet. Rà‡union’s west coast blows straight offshore with the prevailing trade winds, and swell is almost guaranteed during peak season. Plus, the food’s killer, the weather’s perfect, and the scenery is virtually unparalleled.
How: You can fly direct from Los Angeles via Paris or London for about $1,800, since April-July is Rà‡union’s peak tourist season. But you’ll save considerable cash if you instead book a discount ticket to London or Paris, then a separate ticket to Rà‡union on Air France, Air Austral, Air Mauritius, Corsair, or Air Madagascar.
Places To Stay: In August, you can camp directly in front of the break at Saint-Leu; otherwise, there are a zillion options, from five-star to one-star, self-catered to pampered, all relative to your budget. We’re cheap bastards, so we prefer the hostels and ratty half-star motels, but if you can afford Saint-Leu’s Blue Margouillat at $200-plus a night, well, then that’s cool, too.
Places To Eat: Pepto-Bismol is handy because, although tasty, a lot of Rà‡union’s food is trà¤s spicy. The French love food, of course, so almost any exotic dish you can think of is available, be it French, Indian, Asian, African-you get the idea. Don’t leave without trying Creole rougail, a spicy chutney. You may want to pass on the octopus vindaloo and bat curry, though.
Babes And Bros: Who can scoff at nubile, topless French chicks swirling hot beach sand between their fingers at Boucan Canot? Or all those sultry lasses eyeing you on the dance floor in the Saint-Gilles disco? Yep, Rà‡union is holding hugely! Also, hunky local men-look out, ladies!
Crowd Control: Saint-Leu gets packed, but there are several other quality reefbreaks along the west coast. Mind your manners, learn a few cool French phrases (bonjour, mon ami! is a good one: “hello friend!”), wait your turn, and never, ever drop in on anybody. With a finite number of spots and a seemingly infinite number of surfers on one tiny island, oui, there’s bound to be some tension.
Stuff To Bring: Windchill often warrants a vest. Reef booties and shark repellent aren’t bad choices, either. You can ride almost any board at Saint-Leu, but you’ll want something gunnier and pintail-ish for hollower, scarier spots like L’Hermitage and Pic du Diable. If the extent of your French is oui and bonjour, definitely pack a French phrasebook. Not only will it make life easier, it will greatly enhance your game with the local mademoiselles. Don’t forget hiking boots, either (see below).
If The Surf Is Flat: Don’t feel like bronzing on the beach among hot, topless girls? Better lace up your trail boots, because Rà‡union’s interior is world-class, stacked with epic mountains, active volcanoes, and crazy ravines, all offering unreal scenery. At night, party hearty in Saint-Gilles. The capital city of Saint-Denis is also interesting, and you can’t go wrong with a jaunt to Hell-Bourg, self-proclaimed as “one of France’s most beautiful villages.”
Helpful Web sites: Rà‡union has no official tourism site, but if you speak French, there’s loads of stuff online. Good info in English can be found at runweb.com, iledelareunion.net, lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/reunion/, and