Surfing France means wide, open beach breaks that get super punchy with winter Atlantic swells, backed up by cruisy blue waves in the summer for beginners and families.
The surfing in France at a glance
- Really consistent waves powered by big ocean trenches
- Hundreds of miles of beach breaks
- Excellent infrastructure in place for both surfing pros and casual surfing families
- Exposed stretches of Atlantic shoreline
- Flat days in the summer
This is a branch of our ultimate guide to surfing in Europe.
What will I find in this guide to France surf?
An introduction to surfing France
Legend says that lumberjacks from the western forests of France used to ride the Bay of Biscay swells on rough wood planks as far back in the 1860s. It would make sense, what with a coastline that offers the same punchy consistency as Hawaii right on their doorstep. But whether surfing is as old as that or not in this corner of Europe, there’s simply no denying it’s influence today.
Nearly 200 miles of coastline, running from Biarritz and the Basque Country in the south to the estuaries of the Dordogne and Garonne midway up the French Atlantic, can lay claim to more peaks and shore breaks than you can shake a bowl of garlic mussels at. Some are legendary, like the Quicksilver Pro stomping ground of Hossegor. Others are well-kept secrets, like sheltered Hendaye nearer the Spanish border.
As if that’s still not enough, the surfing France has to offer extends north to the wild waters of Brittany and the largely unknown surf territory of Loire-Atlantique. They have untamed winter swells and craggy bays flanked by headlands, giving all sorts of hardcore point breaks. You’ve also got the Mediterranean. Yes, that’s usually for the sunbathers and the jet setters, but a few surprising surf spots do arise in rougher seasons, especially around Marseille and its rugged Massif des Calanques.
If we had to pick, we’d say the trademark wave of France is a strong, overhead shore break coming off sandbanks that shift and turn to produce lefts, rights, and A-frames on any given day. Those are in abundance all the way up the so-called Silver Coast, the undisputed mecca for surf in the country.
The top surf destinations in France
France has no shortage of fantastic surf destinations. Some have shouldered their way into the spotlight by hosting pro competitions and offering some of Europe’s punchiest waves – Hossegor, that’s you! Others can seem tailor-made for families or beginners looking to hit some sand-bottomed swells in the warmer reaches of the North Atlantic. Here’s a guide to what’s on offer and where…
Rugged, wild, and with coastlines on its north, west and south sides, Brittany is fantastic surf territory. With cooler waters than it’s southerly compadre, the region breeds some of the hardiest folk to ever go surfing France. Or, at least, that’s what they say, but no one’s arguing on a midwinter NW swell when things are under 10 degrees in the water and double overhead!
The Breton geography makes for a real wonderland of surfing. It’s certainly the best place to go in France for rocky reefs and point breaks. Thanks to La Torche – the area’s mainstay – you also get oodles of the peaky and punchy beach breaks that surfing France is known for.
Baie des Trépassés
The Baie des Trépassés is flanked by the two big headlands right at the end of the north-west tip o Brittany. That makes it a magnet for the strong N-NW swells that come in off the Atlantic during the winter months. When it gets too big you can get hefty rips and closeouts. But, catch it on the low-tide turn with an easterly offshore, and rides can be fun, hollow walls that are rippable to the T. Baie des Trépassés is known for having some of the coldest waters in the whole of the Finistère region, so keep that 4/3 handy.
La Torche is the poster-boy of surfing in Brittany. A real swell magnet, it picks up pretty much everything that comes W-NW off the middle of the Atlantic. That means waves from December to December, although things are way bigger in the winter months. Locals who know what they’re doing will usually use the rip that’s close to the point to get out. We’d say it’s better to start on a few of the left-handers that peel off down the bay to the north. They’re generally less crowded and more forgiving, not to mention often totally deserted. Just be sure to brush up on your duck diving – the paddle here can warrant a baguette or two’s worth of energy!
Read our ultimate guide to La Torche surf right now
The Silver Coast – the best surfing France has to offer!
There’s hardly any debate about the fact that the Silver Coast is the single best surf region France has to offer. Running for hundreds of kilometres down the Atlantic, it’s basically beach break after beach break. But this isn’t your usual medley of peaks and closeouts. There’s mega variety involved – where else could pit the Quicksilver Pro barrels of La Gravière right next to the chest-high swells of Moliets?
The Silver Coast also hosts the self-proclaimed capital of surfing France: Hossegor. A buzzy, fun-filled place, it bursts wit surf schools and surf camps, and flaunts a fizzing nightlife scene for after a day’s waves. There are also breaks for all levels in the vicinity of the town, so it’s a safe bet no matter who you are.
Lacanau is one of the first main resort-surf towns you’ll encounter in the Gironde department. Its long and sandy Plage Centrale is classic Atlantic coastline. There are a number of peaks, but the most popular is probably the lengthy right-hander at Plage Nord. As you head south down the coast, you encounter more fickle sandbanks. They offer lefts and A-frames at Ecureuil and La Sud. Lacanau has oodles (literally tens!) of surf schools and board rentals, so gear and tuition is easy to come by.
Read our complete guide to surfing Lacanau right now!
Biscarrosse is probably a more classically French surf spot than its compadres further north. That is to say it showcases the heavier beach breaks that the Silver Coast is known for. Long sands run in front of the dunes and pine forests that dress the coast. The action is all up and down Biscarrosse Beach itself. It’s considered a major beginner destination, so be ready to compete with the surf schools. Break wise, it’s punchy beach peaks and lots of em’; some left, some right, some mushy.
The surf at Moliets can hold up to two metres or more, and when things get heavy on the Atlantic it’s possible to find some fast barrelling waves on this stretch of the Landes coast. Summertime sees the sets quieten and Moliets becomes a favorite for intermediates and the occasional beginner group. Can be surfed on all tides but watch out for the rips that can develop suddenly with the movement of a single sandbank.
There are at least four named spots marking the shoreline of Seignosse. They are all beach breaks with that trademark Landes punch to them. The peaks of Les Bourdaines are the stuff of legend. On any given day, they can cook up steep drop-in zones and high walls or barrels, right next to mellow lefts and rights. When the Bay of Biscay draws in Atlantic storms, the A-frame sets at Les Estagnots are fantastic and rippable, but also hollow in sections. Penon is the place to be if you’re just starting out.
Just a mention of the name Hossegor is usually enough to get the hairs on any seasoned surfer’s neck standing on end. This is the crème-de-la-crème of the surfing France has to offer. The stomping ground of Quiksilver Pro comps and a rite of passage for all would-be experts, the tubes of La Gravière are probably the peak of the challenge.
Quieter breaks wait in Les Culs Nus to the north of town. La Sud is the most sheltered place to paddle out, with mellower waves that even get the occasionally longboarder in the water. Oh, and Hossegor town itself has become a surf haven extraordinaire. There are surf schools on every corner, surf camps overlooking every dune, and a decent après scene to boot.
Check out our complete guide to Hossegor surf
Capbreton can get wild when it works, because it serves up a series of classical Silver Coast beach barrels. They need a little extra power to get working, which sadly funnels in the crowds from Hossegor’s breaks when they’re all blown out. But dealing with the rips and the line ups is the sacrifice you make for some of the region’s zippiest and most adrenaline-pumping runs. Rides aren’t long in Capbreton, but they are all about riding the lip and ripping it up. Good intermediates only, please!
Check our our complete guide to Capbreton surf
The Basque Coast
The Basque Coast benefits from the same huge underwater canyons that funnel the groundswells through the Bay of Biscay to Hossegor. That means there’s some serios power in these parts. Winter and spring bring the biggest waves, which can hit triple overheads and even offer gun surfers some Nazare practice grounds. It’s more likely you’ll be looking to surf one of the multitude of beaches or points around lovely Anglet or hit the uber-famous breaks of Biarritz (there’s something for all levels in those parts).
The closer you go to the Spanish border, the more the coast twists to run westwards towards the Pyrenees. That tends to be better territory for beginners, because bays like Hendaye are sheltered from the dominant westerly swell.
Anglet is joined at the hip to Biarritz, but it’s arguably the most consistent surf spot of the two. One of the first places where you’ll ride the waves of the Côte Basque, it offers over 10 individual beaches. They all lay claim to separate spots. Some are jetty breaks that come off the coast defences, like at Les Cavaliers (a potential double overhead there!). Others are beautifully shaped shore breaks that would give Portugal’s best a run for their money – check out the hollow A-frames at Les Sables d’Or for that!
Check out our complete guide to surfing Anglet
Straddling the divide between the jet-setter and the bohemian, Biarritz mixed flashy cocktail bars with surf shacks. It can often feel like someone’s dragged Cannes kicking and screaming over to the Atlantic. Still, the surf credentials are undeniable. There’s a handful of named breaks in the town’s limits. The main beach is a protected beach break that attracts beginners in summer – loads of them. Then you have Côte des Basques. The summer months are good to that one, offering light, mushy practice waves at low tide (and only low tide!). When swells dip and you get some good offshores, check out the shoreys down to La Milady.
Check out our complete guide to Biarritz surf
The Pyrenees foothills come into view in beautiful Bidart. They offer the perfect setting for surfing in some of the Basque region’s rockier coves. The more rugged geography helps to power the reefs of Ilbaritz. But there’s also no shortage of places to find your feet – look to Erretegia bay or just ask at one of the local surf schools (there are loads) for that.
If we had to pick one surfing spot that really sums up the Basque Country, Guethary would be it. Craggy headlands dip down to an unruly stretch of the Bay of Biscay here to offer up some serious challenges. In fact, Guethary could just be the gnarliest big-waves surfing France has to offer – the pros-only spot at Parlementia testifies to that. The hollow triple overheads and unforgiving reef sections of other spots like Avalanche and Alcyons also add to the reputation. TL;DR – this isn’t the place for that first-time family surf outing!
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a charming coast town in the midst of the French Basque region. It’s probably best known for the uber-long Lafiténia break, a fun and sectiony right point that’s got some nice long rides. If you don’t have access to a car so can’t venture to those pretty sands to the north, you can hit the harbour breaks of Sainte Barbe. They are fickler and only tend to work on autumn-winter N-NW swells, but hey, it’s something!
Read our full guide to Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf right now!
The last spot you can find when surfing France on the west coast is also the last town you’ll find this side of the Spanish border. As the coast bends to run east-west instead of north-south along the Bay of Biscay, the coves and beaches here are a whole load more protected than in Landes and Gironde. That means the possibility of regular chest- and head-high waves for the winter, and less interference from the onshores, especially if you limit yourself the super-fun small waves of the Casino break (the town’s best).
Check out our complete guide to Hendaye surf
A guide to the France surfing season
Winter (November – March)
For good intermediates and experts
The North Atlantic engine room is working overtime in the winter months, spurred on by heavy wind patterns across the whole of the Bay of Biscay. That has a huge effect on the west coast, and puts the surfing France has to offer down the Landes, Breton and Basque coasts into overdrive. Big waves – and we mean BIG – are common throughout the season. Famous spots like La Gravière will be pumping and there are some heavy wedges to be had on beaches like Plage Centrale in Lacanau; spots that can be pancake-flat in the high summer. Oh, and you can add to that virtually deserted line ups.
If you find yourself licking your proverbial lips at the prospect of surfing France in this hardcore season, some caveats. First, the weather on the Atlantic between November and March is hugely unpredictable. Big waves do come, but so do massive closeouts and unbearable cross-shore winds. You take the bad with the good. In addition, it’s cold. Scandinavian surfers might scoff, but the rest of us will want a thick 4/3 at least in the height of the season, not to mention boots and earplugs.
Spring (April – June)
An intermediate dream
It can take a while for the storm swells of the Atlantic to calm down after the wild winter months. But, when they finally do, the whole western haunch of France becomes a whole different surfing beast. From Hossegor to Brittany, the beaches are washed by smaller, calmer and far more shapely sets in this month. That equals longer rides on cleaner, glassier waves. Waters won’t be warm – in fact, the early spring can be the coldest season of all in these parts. However, there’s still not massive crowds to contend with, so that’s a plus.
Lower-skilled intermediates and beginners might want to hold on until the end of spring (June is perfect). That will allow time for the sandbanks that shape most of the waves up and down the Basque and Landes coast to set in position for the coming season, adding much-welcome consistency from day to day.
Summer (July – August)
Perfect for beginners
The summertime on the French Atlantic coasts sees hordes of holidaymakers descend on the sands. If you’re considering surfing France hotspots like Hossegor or Bairritz, you can kiss goodbye to any chance of empty line ups. On the flip side, the summer swells are nowhere near as powerful. Calm days with chest-high and head-high waves roll in by the bucket load to the beaches of Seignosse, Mimizan, and Anglet to give total novices ideal practising conditions. We’d recommend booking lessons or surf camps ahead of time if decide it’s the season for you.
Autumn (September – October)
The best all round
While Portugal’s big waves are benefitting from the return of the westerly swells on the Atlantic, the French west coast is undergoing its own transition. Autumn here is a pick-a-mix of heavy days, small days, and – very, very occasionally – flat days. The added variety, but also the dropping off of onshores, the reduction in holidaymakers on the coast, and the warmth of the water (it’s the warmest it will be all year in September and October) leads many a local to say this is the single best time of year to go surfing France. We probably agree.
Travel essentials for anyone surfing France
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Population: 67 million
- Capital: Paris
- Language: French
Where exactly is France
One of the largest countries in Western Europe, you can hardly miss France on the map. It occupies a huge cut-out at the base of the Iberian Peninsula, between the Med and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s north buts up to the English Channel. The east crashes into the Alps and Germany. The west hits Spain and the Atlantic – that’s where most of the surfing is!
How to get to France
With loads of airports spread across the country served by major low-cost European airlines, and two major airports in the capital with direct connections all around the globe, France is super easy to get to from wherever you are. Although, if you’d rather travel overland, France is well-connected with the rest of Europe by both trains and buses. There are also major motorways linking it to Germany and Spain for those coming in with the boards in the boot.
How to travel around France
Travelling around France is easy, whether by train, bus, plane, car or even a bike. France has top quality motorways all across the country and some picturesque country roads for fun driving trips. If you don’t have a car, the most comfortable way to move is by train: France’s world-famous TGV will get you from city to city very quickly. The high-speed trains are not the cheapest, but you can get some early-bird bargains if you’re lucky. Travelling by bus will save you some dosh. Oh, and it will let you get to places not served by the railway services. There are three major bus companies in France: Flixbus, Ouibus and Eurolines.
Think we missed something? Got something to add? Something to correct? This wouldn’t be the ultimate guide to surfing France if it wasn’t forever being updated and added to. We’d love to hear any suggestions in the comments below. And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about planning a surf trip to France.