First Session: Hossegor

Matt Rode

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Updated 658d ago

Our First Session series peels back the legend on the first surfers at various famous spots from across the globe. We've already covered Teahupoo, Waimea, Anchor Point, Cloudbreak, Bali, J-Bay and Puerto Escondido and Mundaka but let us know in the comments if there is anywhere else you'd like us to shine a spotlight on.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our First Sessions series this year has been the research process—the people we’ve met, the information we’ve gleaned, and the first-hand reports we’ve discovered and read. The history of the world’s different lineups is so interesting and varied, and every spot we’ve profiled has managed to surprise and entertain us.

But one surf spot in particular was incredibly difficult to research—and oddly enough, it’s one of the most famous in on the planet. In fact, not only has this series of sand bars served as the venue for a world tour event for more than a decade, but it arguably sits at the centre of European surfing.

Forecast: Hossegor

While the history of surfing in France has been pretty well documented, figuring out who exactly pioneered Hossegor has taken me over a month of digging and involved conversations with numerous people who know other people who “might have some verifiable information.” I heard all sorts of rumors and stories, ranging from US military members based in France to the early sessions of legends like Tom Curren and Martin Potter. But it wasn’t until I had a chat with Didier Piter, a French surfing legend in his own right, that I finally got some concrete info.

Didier Piter enjoyed a successful career as a professional competitive surfer in the 1990s, winning five European titles, placing as high as seventh at the ISA games, and making the semifinals in his final event at the 2001 Pipe Masters. At the same time, he worked his way through college, eventually earning a master’s degree in international trade and marketing. Piter then earned an advanced coaching credential, and now serves as a coach to some of France’s best surfers from his base in the Seignosse-Hossegor area. In other words, he’s probably the best person on the planet to provide us with the history of the Hossegor-area beach breaks of La Nord, La Graviere, and beyond.

Hossegor's swell consistency, which you can find HERE.

Hossegor's swell consistency, which you can find HERE.

As Piter tells it, the first generation of surfers in Hossegor included Alain Webber, the Crestoys brothers, Jackie Rott, and J-C Rossiaud—all of whom populated the La Sud Surf Club located behind the lifeguard shacks. The next generation came with the Atlantic Surf Club, and included guys like Dudouty, Bernard Lescoulie, JP Tarascon, JL Bianco (who eventually because president of the federation), and Dabadie.

Interestingly, these early local surfers were riding boards called “plaqui,” which were pieces of wood that were popular for wave riding in the Capbreton and Hossegor area. This was long before “modern surfing” and surfboards were introduced to France in the late 1950s by Americans visiting Biarritz.

A handful of foreigners eventually started filtering into Hossegor in search of the area’s mythical sand-bottomed barrels, including an early Australian expat named Walli. Legendary surfer/shaper Maurice Cole arrived next in 1981, moving in permanently with the help of Francois Payot and Rip Curl, and spent a number of years scoring virtually alone, with only a couple of local surfers in the water with him.

Tom Curren showed up in the mid-1980s, basing in Anglet and regularly visiting Hossegor to score barrels, shape experimental boards with Cole, and play music in the evenings. Then Gary “Kong” Elkerton moved to town at the end of the decade, and with that much high-profile, world-class talent in the area it was only a matter of time before Hossegor became a household name.

Today, the sand bars at local beaches such as La Nord and La Graviere are considered the standard against which all other beach breaks are measured. Firing from early October through the frigid months of winter, they pump out endless barrels for those who are willing to strap on the requisite rubber and spend time getting to know the shifting peaks.

These days, that’s a lot of people—as evidenced by the crowds we saw throughout November, when Hossegor enjoyed a historic run of swell. But it isn’t hard to imagine the lonely, golden years of Hossegor surfing, when a handful of foreigners and a dedicated cadre of locals traded barrel after sandy barrel with no one else around, only a few short decades ago.

Cover shot by Damian Davila