Go There: Reunion Island
French Flair in the Indian Ocean
Where: The verdant west coast of Reunion, in the southwestern Indian Ocean. Reunion sits off the east coast of Africa, due east of Madagascar. For U.S. travelers, it's an incredibly long series of flights, but the mix of great surf and culture makes the payoff well worth it.
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 Reunion's west coast. Instead of wallowing in next summer's sloppy, crowded waves at home, you could be pulling into Reunion's turquoise tubes and whacking come-hither left-hand lips 'til the cows come home.
Why: Remember Occy ripping Saint Leu in those old Billabong videos? Or the recent footage of Jordy and crew in Modern Collective? Or the fact that the ASP has staged pro contests there? That's reason enough to hop halfway around the planet, kids. Reunion'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: South Africans need visas. Roland Garros International Airport (RUN) receives direct flights from Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, South Africa, and France. April through July is Reunion's peak tourist season, but you'll save cash if you book a discount ticket to London or Paris, then a separate ticket to Reunion on Air France, Air Austral, Air Mauritius, Corsair, or Air Madagascar.
Places To Stay: St-Leu's three-star Paladien Apolonia is plush but a double room starts at $150 per night. Directly across the street from the wave is Dodo Spot; a double room there starts at $36 per night. They also offer cabins. The Campix campground is open March to November. For cheap deals, stay in guesthouses ($40/$60) slightly out of town or go to St-Pierre or St-Gilles. Otherwise, there are many other options, from five-star to one-star, self-catered to pampered, all relative to your budget.
Places To Eat: Pepto-Bismol is handy because although tasty, a lot of Reunion's food is très 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.
Bros And Babes: Plenty. The bros are mostly French for those of you ladies who have a fetish for all that is Francophilian. And 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, Reunion is holding!
Crowd Factor: 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 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, there's bound to be some tension. Reunion is one of the world's top ten locations with the highest shark attack activity, and it has a bad record of attacks on surfers (a surfer was killed in 2006 and another recently attacked).
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: You can bronze on the beach among hot, topless girls for starters. But if you're looking for a more athletic endeavor, then lace up your trail boots, because Reunion'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."
More Information: Reunion 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/, reunionisland.net, and wannasurf.com/spot/Africa/Reunion.