Surfing In France

26 October 2021  |  Holidays

Surfing In France

The first recorded surfers in Europe were documented off the coast of Portugal in the 1920s. It would be another 30 years before surfing took hold in a big way in France, beyond the odd visitor from down the Basque coast in Portugal. The fateful event would be the filming of the 1957 Hollywood adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises. Based on the adventures of an alcoholic American travelling around Europe in the late 20s, many key scenes take place in Biarritz. In one of the final moments in the film, the main character (played by Tyrone Power of the original Zorro movie) bodyboards into the ocean to cleanse himself after a long night of drinking.

Hemingway Le Soleil

 © Hemingway Le Soleil 

For that scene, the film’s crew had to bring over a surfboard from California – as no-one was producing them in mainland Europe at the time. Coincidentally the producer Darryl Zanuck and the scriptwriter Peter Viertel were also keen on becoming amateur surfers themselves, and often practiced during their downtime when shooting the movie. Soon they recruited a host of local youngsters to join the practice with them, including George Hennebutte, Jacky Rott and brother Joseph and Jo Moraiz amongst others. Many names from this crew would go on to become legends of French surfing and pioneers of the sport in Europe. They would go on to open up the first surfing club in France, the first surfing school and the first surfing shop. The original surfing shop in France, The Jo Moraiz Surf Shop, is still open to this day – run by the granddaughter of the very first owner himself.


 © Moraiz 

As for surfing in France, the next big development was probably in 1979. This was the first iteration of the Lacanau Pro tournament, which took place just up the coast from Biarritz in Lacanau. It was the first professional tournament of its kind in Europe, although an American surfer – Greg Loehr – took home the first-place finish. It would be another three years before a French surfer, Thierry Fernandez, would take the title in 1982.

Lacanau Surf Club

 © Lacanau Surf Club 

Today, Biarritz, Hossegor, Cap Feret and the like are globally known surfing destinations that bring in billions in tourist revenue every year.


 © Biarritz 


 © Hossegor 

Cap Feret

 © Cap Feret 

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Hugh Atkins

Co-founder of Pure France. 20 years of visiting and photographing fabulous properties, meeting fascinating people and driving every main and back road in France.

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