The Ultimate Guide to Surfing Lacanau

by Tom Lacmundy

Surfing Lacanau is about surfing quintessential French coastline. Strong Atlantic swells abound and there’s a whopping nine miles of beachfront to cater to a host of different levels.

Lacanau surf

Surfing Lacanau at a glance

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The good

  • Consistent shorebreaks for much of the year
  • Empty peaks to yourself to the north and south
  • Exposed – vulnerable to wind

The bad

  • Some localism in some spots
  • (Very) Occasional flat summer days
  • Really busy during the French holidays

This guide is a part of our larger guide to surfing in France

What’s Lacanau surf info will I find in this guide?

An introduction to surfing Lacanau

Lacanau is a favoured spot on the WSL league rotation and probably the quintessential sort of French west coaster. Long runs of beautiful golden beachfront go to the north and the south of town. they are WAY less built up than the uber-popular locations of Hossegor and Biarritz on the Basque and Landes shores. Instead of glitzy hotels, you get to surf next to scented pine forests, and lots of it. That, in turn, means smaller line ups, and even the possibility of a peak to yourself in the spring and autumn months.

It seems unfair to say, but surfing in Lacanau is all about quantity, not quality. The handful of named beach breaks – and they are ALL beach breaks – that can be accessed from the town usually have something going off. Don’t expect glassy walls a la Bali, though. When we say quintessential France, we mean it. So, forever shifting sandbanks rule the breaks. West and north-west swells provide the power. The combo means one day can be beautiful tubes that run fast and hollow to the right, while the next is mushy whitewash that’s only good for duck dive practice.

The good news is that the latter of those two are the much, mush rarer. Lacanau surf manages lots of great conditions, which shows in the pro comps and the crowds that come. The proximity to the major city and airport of Bordeaux also means its accessible. Lots of surf schools and a relaxed summertime vibe only add to the draws for first-time surfers and traveling surf families.

A surfer in Lacanau

Where is Lacanau?

Lacanau is in France’s ocean-facing Gironde department. It’s a part of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and around an hour or so by car from the major metropolis of Bordeaux. To the west is all salt water – the open courses of the Bay of Biscay dominate there. Southwards are long runs of beach before the opening of Arcachon Bay, a relaxed holiday zone known for its oysters. Lacanau itself is split into Lacanau and Lacanau-Ocean. The latter is where you’ll go to catch the waves.

The top Lacanau surf spots

The surfing Lacanau has to offer is spread over a long length of the Aquitaine shore. It goes north to Carcans and south to La Barriere. Here, we cover some of the most famous spots in the area:

Carcans

Ditch the crowds by escaping north to Carcans. Just 5.5 miles’ driving along the pretty coast roads from Lacanau it’s a reachable beach break that’s actually quite similar to the options closer to town, only without the big lineups come spring and summer. The main break is on Plage de Carcans, but there are peaks everywhere. The wave standard is wally and rideable, with the potential for some steep sections when swells are bigger. Can be prone to close outs on direct onsore west swells. Strong rips. Summertime is great for beginners, so look out for the surf schools in Carcans town.

L’Alexandre

The remote spot called L’Alexandre sits roughly midway between Carcans and Lacanau. It’s best reached with a 4X4 on the sandy roads that lead through the pine forests to the beach. Expect classic French shore breaks that are perfect on swells of 1-2m but can close out on strong winter storms. LOADS of space to yourself if you come anytime outside of summer. You get gorgeous views of the coast too. Surf it on a creeping mid tide for the longest rides. Beware of winter rips.

La Nord

La Nord is probably the most famous break in Lacanau. It’s a strong and punchy beach break – just like all the other on the French west coast – but comes with the added consistency of right-breaking sandbanks. That means it’s a corker for regular riders who want to lean straight into the take off. Long rides follow, with nice sections that are rippable on fatter days. Overhead is at 2-3m, which the spot can handle, but we think it’s best at 1-1.5 with long periods and light offshores. Expect a big lineup when that’s the case.

La Centrale

Just as the name implies, La Centrale is visible from the main entrance to the town itself – AKA. It’s the most central of the Lacanau surf spots. Unfortunately, that means a bigger line up, which can get ridiculous during school holidays in the summer. The crowds are bolstered even more on small conditions, because La Centrale is a great beginner spot thanks to the consistency that’s offered by the beach jetties. They create a regular right and left. Other, more unpredictable, peaks drift to the north and south. Fantastic surf schools and rentals are all over the place, so come here for that first lesson.

La Sud

Fickle but fun, La Sud is all sandbanks, sandbanks, and more sandbanks. Winter and spring storms can play havoc with the spot because the underwater contours are always shifting one way and another. Come summer, they sit and settle a little, so there’s a bit more predictability in the peaks. Still, you never really know what you’ll get. Best bet is an early morning dawnie before the winds and crowds pick up so you can try out a couple of the peaks on your own.

L’Ecureuil

The farthest of the main surf points that are within walking/biking distance of Lacanau town, L’Ecureuil is another shifting set of sandbars that fire off lefts, rights, and its fair share of closeouts. Some nice wally rides for shortboards when the swell is medium, the tide is on the push and periods are low. Localism can be an issue here.

La Barriere

The farthest south you can go within the Lacanau surf territory is marked by the strong La Barriere beach break. It’s a classic French wave that maxes out at 3m. Swells spread across a whole bunch of peaks, so you’ll be able to practice on lefts and rights. Mushy when its small. Punchy and fast when its big with the possibility of rippable walls. Line ups are nice and small.

Where to stay when surfing in Lacanau

Surf finished in Lacanau

There are some hotels that can get you super close to the Lacanau surf spots. for those, you’ll need to look to the wave-side part of the town that’s known as Lacanau-Ocean. All the recommendations below are there, which means a quick stroll (or a short drive, in the case of the family house) from your room and you can be checking the swell conditions on Centrale Plage. Nice.

Villa Zenith Hostel – La Maison ($-$$)

Rated 9 on Booking.com, comfy and stylish Villa Zenith Hostel – La Maison is the perfect place to settle right by Centrale Beach. You can usually save some cash by opting for the rooms with shared bathroom facilities, but you’ll still get to enjoy that lovely communal garden with patio and garden. It’s perfect for eating and meeting likeminded surf travelers after a sesh on the waves. Surfboards are for rent on site.

Charming Family house in Lacanau ($$)

We thought we’d include this as an option for traveling surf families on a mission to ride the waves together down the French coast. It’s a gorgeous, typically Aquitaine chalet with pretty wooden trims and pink-painted balconies. Located right on the edge of one of the region’s famous golf courses, it’s got plenty to entertain dad and mum while the little ones do their surf lessons.

LACANAU FRONT DE MER ($$)

Compact and convenient, this little bolthole is all about the view. It sits right in front of the northern end of Centrale Beach, which means you can sit on the balcony – what a wonderful balcony it is, too! – and watch the surfers on La Nord do their thing. Inside is a lounge-diner-kitchen in the French ski-flat style.

When to surf in Lacanau

Ask the locals and they’ll tell you – the most important Lacanau surf info out there is about the seasons. Summer can be positively tame on the Aquitaine coast. Winters can rumble on with double overheads and gnarly drop ins. Choosing the prime time for your surfing holiday in these parts is paramount…

Lacanau in the summer

Summer (June-early September)

Lacanau always gets W-NW swells – that’s just the way things roll on this Atlantic coast. However, summer is the weakest period, when storms in the North Atlantic drop away and calmer winds dominate. The upshot? It’s the perfect time for beginner surfers, with small waves that are good for practicing. Not brilliant for pros at this time, because flat days are more likely – around 40% of the days are surfable, with the bulk drawn from windswells.

  • Warm water – a 3/2 for some, boardshorts and vest for hardier folks.

Winter (November-March)

The winter is the hardest surfing season in Lacanau. Strong Bay of Biscay currents blast the shoreline here, creating double and triple overheads that challenge the fittest of riders. Be good at paddling if you’re going to try this, because the Lacanau beaches have pop-up rips and require some elbow grease to get out back. Rewards are barrels and hollow sections and empty A-frames from La Nord to L’Ecureuil.

  • Really cold – 4/3s or 5/4s required. Boots, gloves and hood unless you want to lose your extremities.

Autumn (September-early November)

Wave consistency almost doubles in the autumn. Crowds also drop away, so line ups thin considerably. Lots of people consider this high time for surfing Lacanau. Dominant W-WNW groundswells create nice wally rides. The sandbanks of La Nord and the southern beaches are typically settled by this point in the season, too, so the lefts and right are predictable.

The warmest – boardshorts and a rash vest should tide you over in Autumn.

Spring (April & May)

Spring in Lacanau is a little like autumn but with the added uncertainty of sandbank movement on the more exposed breaks. That’s fun if you’re after a challenge, but keep an eye out for resulting rips, which can be bad after storms in particular. April is the more consistent of the spring months, with 66% surfable days and a majority of groundswell.

  • Cold – We’d pack the 3/2, something thicker if you have it too, and a set of boots and hood for the start of spring.

Surf shops in Lacanau

Lacanau is brimming with surf shops. There are options in both Lacanau town and Lacanau-Ocean but we’ve stuck to the outlets nearest the sea here. Remember that lots closes for the season in this summertime resort, so you might find it harder to stock up between November and March.

Matahari Surfshop & Ecole de Surf Lacanau

A surf school and surf shop, Matahari is a long-time staple of surfing Lacanau. Sat right down by Plage Centrale, you can hardly miss it on your way to the breaks in the morning. Drop in to bolster your quiver with Lost boards and other rides made by local shapers. Or, just come to top up on Santa Cruz and other global brand gear after a sesh.

Surf City Surfshop

Right next door to Matahari (see above) on Boulevard de la Plage, you’ll find this big outlet. It’s got a huge selection of all sorts of surf gear. There are nifty shortboards that cut below 5″6, along with bullet foamies and minimals for the starters. Wetsuits, flipflops, rash vests – there’s oodles more on top.

Best places to eat in Lacanau

After you hop out of the Atlantic and drop the board, Lacanau awaits with a whole medley of different eateries and restaurants. Some of the ones we’ve heard top things about are listed below…

Café Maritime ($$$)

A seafront location on the salt-washed boulevard of Lacanau makes this the perfect post-surf spot. But don’t let the name deceive – it’s much more an upmarket bistro than a classic French cafe. Plates are meticulously designed to showcase regional ingredients, artfully mixing seafood and meats and sweet pastries to dust off the evening.

Tasca Bodega ($$)

A warm welcome and an unassuming interior of basic tables and colour-scrawled walls awaits at highly rated Tasca Bodega. It’s all about hearty servings of traditional Aquitaine foods, with a particular focus on Mediterranean and Catalan influences. Prices are midrange but the service is top.

Chaï Tea & House ($)

Relax and unwind after getting salty on the Lacanau waves at this oriental-inspired teahouse-cafe. You enter though a door flanked by green ferns and flowers, into a distinctly hipster place where the menu is all organic cookies and spicy chai. The cakes and crepes are the piece de resistance!

Forests around Lacanau

Things to do when you’re not surfing in Lacanau

Surfing Lacanau shouldn’t just be about hitting the water! Not when one of France’s most enthralling cities and stunning runs of dune-topped coastline are within reach. Check it out and get planning, folks…

Do a day trip to Bordeaux

One of the reasons that surfing Lacanau is so darn popular with the domestic French crowd is that the beaches and breaks are within easy striking distance of Bordeaux. Just an hour’s drive down the motorway can bring you the majestic and historic town, which comes filled with grand palaces and churches. You’ll see what we mean when you step onto the vast Place de la Bourse or gaze up at the bulbous domes of Bordeaux Cathedral!

Explore Arcachon Bay

A beautiful drive of less than 45 minutes can transport you from the beach breaks of Lacanau to the open waters of Arcachon Bay. It’s a wonderful corner of France. The closest part of the area to Lacanau itself is actually the relaxed Cap Ferret, which has oyster towns and stunning lighthouses. If you’re willing to make the longer trip around Arcachon to the south, you could also drop by the Dune of Pilat – it’s the largest sand hill in all of Europe and a stunner to behold. Wear good shoes for the climb!

How to get to Lacanau

  • Fly & Drive: Lacanau is easy to reach from Bordeaux Airport. The terminals of that major hub are actually a mere 40 minutes from the main town, and less than an hour from the coastal surf part of Lacanau-Ocean. A car rental is the best option to get you straight over from the arrivals hall, and will help for ferrying back and forth to the breaks once you’re in.
  • Bus: There are buses to Lacanau directly from Bordeaux. They’re operated by TransGironde and go around five times each week, potentially more throughout the peak summer season. Tickets are estimated around 3 EUR per person, each way.

Read our full guide to surfing in France for extra info on other surf towns close to Lacanau

Please get in touch if you have anything to add to this ultimate guide to surfing in Lacanau. We’re always looking to improve, alter and change our surf guides with local knowledge and up-to-date tips!

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