It was in summer 1956 that the first surfboard appeared in Biarritz – France ! : located in the south west of France on the atlantic coast , this small town with eccentric architecture happened to be the host of Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel in charge of filming Ernest Hemingway’s novel : The sun also rises ! In summer 1955 , Peter sent by his producer Darryl Zanuck from 20th Century Fox came checking the Basque Country and choose the luxurious Hotel du Palais as a base for his explorations . situated at Grande Plage beach , the location reminded him from Malibu in California with some perfect waves to surf but there was no surfer in France yet ! So the following year , with Peter’s advise , when back in Biarritz , Richard Zanuck the producer’s son took a surfboard in his luggage ! As soon as his dad heard about the surfboard , he ordered his son to fly back to California ! Peter had never surfed in his life but loved bodysurfing , so he thought of testing his surfing abilities . He walked from the hotel to the beach on a day where the waves were a bit big . He asked the local lifeguards if he could go for a surf : the lifeguards had never seen a surfboard before , and so the told Peter to be careful with swimmers . Peter now followed by the curious lifeguards tried to go out in the surf but didn’t succeed , he had never heard that you need to wax a surfboard so that you don’t slip on the deck …. Some of the lifeguards tried too but nobody could stay on the board !!! That was the first test of surfing in Biarritz ! Some of the lifeguards told him to make a test in Cote des Basques where the waves were more gentle , so , now the word has spread out that some american wanted to walk on the waves . Some of these french beachgoers had seen footage of surfing in theaters and were very curious about testing a surfboard . The day Peter came to Cote des Basques he became surrounded by some of these french …, he tried again but as there was no wax , he didn’t succeed staying on the board again and even lost his board in the rocks and got it damaged ! As he had to go to work he let the surfboard to local engineer Mr Hennebute so that he could fix it ! Monsieur Hennebute fixed it and thought of using some bee wax that french cooks used for jam preserves as a wax to spread on the surfboard … and it worked … and a bunch of french people tested the surfboard and became surf addicts right away .
Cote des Basques was the place where surfing became popular : these curious french guys didn’t know anything about the materials used to build surfboards so they went their own way . Some being engineers like Monsieur Barland went researching on foam and fiberglass and resin , some like Monsieur Rott who was carving wood tested the wood way , and after years of experimenting and testing Barland and Rott got together and created « Barland/Rott surfboard « business in 1958 . Dozen of surfers were sharing surfboards in Cote des Basques . In 1958 , the « attaché d’ambassade « from the Peruvian Embassy in Paris , Monsieur Carlos Dogny came for a visit in Biarritz and fell in love with the place and the waves . As he had been taught surfing by Duke Kahanamoku himself in Hawaii in the late thirties , Carlos has organized with his polo friends a surfclub called Waikiki surfclub in Miraflores – Perou . Being fluent in french from a french father , he was a very wealthy playboy . He offers to help create the first surfclub in France with the name Waikiki surfclub so that links be created with both surf clubs . The Waikiki became the first official club ever in France with a gym and a meeting place as well as a room with racks for these heavy longboards in the « établissement de bains « on the beach of Cote des Basques in the heart of Biarritz !
And surfing bloomed in France as some surfing contests started with the help of Jo Moraiz who started a few years later in 1965 the first surf shop ! and then in 1966 the first surf school !
By word of mouth , Californian surfers started to show up in Biarritz , surf Cote des Basques , and enjoy « the steak house « at night . Both americans enlisted in the american army and based in Germany and americans running away from the enlisting in Vietnam were meeting in Biarritz .
As for us young french surfers a new culture was right in front of our eyes with the arrival of a new way of life , a new code of dressing : before that nobody had ever seen T shirts as well as jeans . These long haired kids from America were in our face : a new world was happening and we were the first in France and Europe to be part of it , but it took a very long time for people around to understand !
International World surfers of the 60’s started to incorporate Biarritz in their surfing agenda as part of a traveling mode incorporating Spain , as well as Portugal and even Morocco . Very famous international surfers such as Nat Young ( World Champion ) , Mark Martinson ( shaper ) , Bill Hamilton , Miki Dora showed the way as they came again and again to surf Biarritz waves and started to explore north and south ! A few movies such as « A life in the sun ( 1966 ) « , « Evolution ( 1969 ) « , Waves of change ( 1970 ) « , brought more traveling surfers to our shores !
The World Amateur Surfing Championships in 1980 at Grande Plage in Biarritz confirmed the popularity of surfing with french and international media . The contest scene went on with the ASP events of the World Pro Tour with short boarders . And then the long boarders took over with Robert Rabagny who organized the Biarritz Surf Festival in Cote des Basques !
Surf riders have been the most populars travelers in Biarritz since ! Surfers come from California as well as Germany or Sweden to ride a few waves in Biarritz ! Surf is spread all over France but if you ask anybody about where is the surfing capital of France it is without any doubt that it’s Biarritz !