The Ultimate Guide to Guethary Surf

by Tom Lacmundy

Guethary surf is about the big waves on the harder Basque Country reefs. AKA It’s a pro spot that presents a real challenge.

We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

Guethary surf at a glance

The good

  • Big wave surfers have loads to get stuck into
  • Beautiful coastline
  • Close to lots of other French surf hotspots

The bad

  • Lack of solid beginner breaks
  • Poor reliability

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in France

What’s in this guide to Guethary surf?

An introduction to Guethary surf

Guethary is the real deal; a Basque Country classic that’s pretty much out of bounds for most surfers. It’s XXL territory most of the time its working, with a smattering of reef breaks and points thrown in for those who know where to look for them. We almost didn’t write a guide to it . The reason? 99% of folks will want to keep on driving to Hendaye or Hossegor, where there are waves for all levels, all times of the year. Guethary surf is mainly for the advanced peeps with the gun boards on the rack.

The jewels in the crown here are two serious big-wave locations. They await at the end of the same stretch of headland that bends a little N-NW into the Atlantic (swell hoover, eh?). Between them is a very neat left-hander reefy that needs bigger days to work, while the coast to the south has a few rarer breaks for learners, though we’d never say the Guethary surf is the place to be if that’s you.

Over and above the waves, Guethary is a charming place. Old fishing cottages stud the hills, the green rises of the northern Pyrenees are behind, and the seafood is fantastic. What’s more, you’re within easy striking distance of some of south-west France’s very best barreling beach breaks.

Where is Guethary?

Guethary surf

A mere 15 miles from the France-Spain border, Guethary lies in the heart of the French Basque coast. It’s about equidistance from two other uber-famous surf towns: Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, which we do mention here because you’re talking less than half an hour’s drive to both, not to mention a way bigger variety of waves. The nearest major cities are actually over the border. There’s Bilbao (around 1.5 hours’ drive) and San Sebastian (a 40-minute drive).

A guide to the Guethary surf spots

Guethary surf spots are predominantly XXL stuff. That’s why we’ve also thrown in a few of the towns to the north and south. They’re less than 20 minute’s on the motorway but offer breaks that suit a much wider variety of surfers.

Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the premier surf towns in France. Part uber-cool casino town for James Bond types, part wave-bashed city, this one’s blessed with a number of excellent breaks. They range from west-facing beach breaks to rocky headlands that create glassy right points. Get to know the tides before you come, and expect crowds.

Read our complete guide to surfing in Biarritz

Bidart

The little bro of Biarritz is more a place to enjoy Basque culture and food and do some surfing on the side than somewhere for a full-on surf trip. There are great breaks, though. many of them favor learners because the coast bends north to cut off much of the dominat swell direction and tame the head-on waves. You can also base yourself in Bidart for surfing up and down the Basque Country.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Bidart

Parlementia

Parlementia is the thinking man’s big-wave spot of southwestern France. What do we mean by that? Well…this isn’t as simple as packing the gun, whacking on a padded vest, and hoping for the best at the peak. Parlementia sculpts and curls much more like Inside Corner in Ulus. It demands some extra pulling power and got technique to get onto the face. That’s when the fun begins, as you’re rewarded with a big face that can be carved with nice diagonal lines, not get-me-to-the-jet-ski runs like you have in Nazare. It’s big-wave though, so only for the pros.

Les Alcyons

We hesitate to couple Les Alcyons with the big-wave spots that first put the Guethary surf on the map. However, it can hold size – anything up to 13/14 foot tends to be okay here so long as the winds will allow. Most of the time, Alcyons is an upper-intermediate to expert spot; a strong and fast left-hand reef break that only really works from mid to high. Beware of rips when the water’s on the drop.

Avalanche

With a name like Avalanche, don’t come expecting a cruisy beginner wave. Nope. This gnarly XXL spot really shows its teeth during the mid-winter storm season. Mad locals and big-wavers from all over will come to do battle with it then. The first skirmish will be with the 300-meter paddle off the jetty, through rough waters that pull south and north. Then, you get to the main break, which can handle a whopping 22-23 foot. Take offs are steep (AKA vertical) and the wave quickly slabs up and over to give one of France’s heaviest barrels. Not for anyone other than the pros.

Cenitz Beach

A popular spot with summertime sunbathers and swimmers, Cenitz is about as relaxed as the surf in Guethary will get. In fact, the warmer months can bring in neat little 2- or 3-footers that keep the groms and the beginners happy. It will get bigger on winter days, but the orientation of the bay helps with shelter. Longboarders get a nice goofy wave on the south side of Cenitz Beach that’s probably one of the longer logger options in the Basque.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s surf spots start just south of the Senix Beach on the Mayarco Plage, an unreliable point break that hits the cliffs under the campsites. From there, you’ve got a number of good-qaulity right handers that are always populated, along with a rare Basque Country beach break.

Check out our complete guide to Saint-Jean-de-Luz surfing right now

Essential gear for surf trips to France

Wetsuits (men):

  • [SUMMER – April to September] C-Skins Session 3/2 | Big up to the extra flex that C-Skins have packed into these latest models. For Hossegor or the Basque Country, that should help you stay out longer and feel freer on the heavier barrels. Glideskin Collar also cuts neck rashing, a problem we often get in France cos’ of the duck dive demmands.
  • [WINTER – October to March] Rip Curl E-Bomb E7 4/3mm | In our opinion the E7 neoprene is maybe second to only Vissla’s stuff in stretchiness, but there’s some good thermo in there to keep it all toasty in the French midwinter. Generally speaking, this is an all-round cracking suit that deserves its rep as one of the go-to suits for pros.

Wetsuits (women):

  • [SUMMER – April to September] Billabong 302 Synergy 3/2mm Chest Zip Wetsuit (2021) – Blue Seas | The stunning, understated colour aside, Billabong have worked wonders by reducing the weight on their Synergy suits, all while keeping that important fleece interior. They are still our weapon of choice on the Hossegor summer swell.
  • [WINTER – October to March] C-Skins 4/3mm Surflite Wetsuit | C-Skin’s eco-friendly surflite has the toastiness of a much heavier suit, but with oodles more felx. And that’s important if you’re going to be navigating the pounding barrels of the Landes west coast.

SUNSCREEN: Suntribe All Natural Zinc Sunscreen | We use Suntribe sunscreen in France because it’s 100% natural and contains zinc oxide – the bee’s knee’s of face protection.

WATER BOTTLE: 18 Oz Hydro Flask | Now our water flask of choice, the Hydro range does better at keeping our aqua warm than any other brand we’ve tried. Also, all the other surfers are using em!

WAX: Quick Humps Mr Zogs Sex Wax Basecoat and Cool Water Topcoat Surfboard Wax | Re-wax before you get to France. You’re covered in this double pack for undercoat and top.

Where to stay when surfing in Guethary

Guethary might not have the same abundance of hotels as Biarritz or San Sebastian over in Spain but there are plenty of places to discover that have real charm. We especially love Hotel Balea for its rustic Basque character…

Hotel Balea ($$-$$$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

A truly handsome and characterful Basque hotel with loads of charm. Check out how it’s designed with the painted mortar and sloping roofs. Inside, the rooms are boutique and charming with a twist of modern style about them. You also get surfboard racks dotted throughout and good proximity to the reefs, so it’s certainly got us folk in mind.

Hotel Villa Catarie ($$$)

There’s a bit more pizzazz and grandeur about Hotel Villa Catarie. Think lobbies filled with antiques and velveteen sofas, chandeliers, and a bistro that serves fine French wine and mezze boards. Come here if you want some lux living on the Basque coast.

When to surf in Guethary?

Guethary waves

Guethary really comes into its own in the winter months. The power needed to stir up the big-wave breaks here can only really come through from November onwards. Obviously, that’s not ideal if you were looking to make the most of the medium and reliable swells of the Basque in September, but then most surfers who come here are only really looking for the XXL stuff anyhow.

Summer (June-August)

Summer can be positively dead on the surf front in Guethary. Swell channels shut off and it’s rare to get the same juice as Hossegor or Landes in August, because the coastline here simply looks the wrong way. You 100% will not catch the likes of Avalanche working. There might be some action on Cenitz for beginners. Still, though, we’l say it one more time: Guethary wouldn’t be our pick if that’s you!

Autumn (Sept-Nov)

Transition months start in Autumn and see the NW swell channels start working on the Bay of Biscay. Unlike in Nazare, which gradually wakes, Guethary can switch on virtually overnight. That’s usually around Novemebr-ish, but you should be able to tell as the Red Bull vans start arriving with the gun boards on top.

Be sure to check out our gear guides:

Winter (December-Feb)

High time Avalance and Parlementia – the big boys of the Guethary surf. Winter swells are the biggest of the year. They come down from the North Atlantic virtually uninterrupted through the Bay of Biscay, offering top heights of about 22-25 feet. When it’s bigger than that, no one will be out.

Spring (March-May)

You might catch the tail end of some heavy winter swells in early spring, but it’s usually all overt by the start of April. That paves the way for decent days on the reefs of Guethary (the best of which is Les Alcyons) and some good riding in the nearby surf towns up and down the Basque Coast. There’s decent reliability but winds are the main enemy.

Surf shops in Guethary

Guethary has a solid array of surf shops, but be ready to drive up and down the Basque coast roads to find them. Few are by the beach and most surf a number of the local surf spots, so there’s no real center to it all.

Prosurf Surf Shop Parlementia

A big surf emporium that sits on the cliffs back from Parlementia, this Prosurf shop has racks and racks of accessories – leashes, tailpads, fins. There’s also a good range of shortboards for sale, along with foamies and even wetsuits for kids.

Rip Curl Pro Store Bidart

You’ll have to drive over to Bidart (the next surf town to the north) to catch the official Rip Curl Pro Store. Racks of the RC original shapes are in stock, from the shortboard fliers to the longboard eggs. There are also tonnes of wetties on offer if you’re on the hunt for some neoprene to carry you through the French winter.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in France

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