Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Waves (and Beaches) of Biarritz

I have been to the best beaches Europe has to offer including the French Riviera, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Cyprus, Crete, Sardinia, the Amalfi Coast (Italy), Ibiza, and Almeria (Spain).

However, Biarritz (and San Sebastian) has to rank pretty close to the top. Actually, we are in Anglet, a little village just north of Biarritz but I think the quality of the beach is consisent up and down this part of the Basque coastline. (We have also been a little ways north to Hossegor where they are hosting a professional surfing contest through Oct 4.) You can see our exact location on this map, which you can use to zoom in on beach. (You can also drag the map south to San Sebastian across the Spanish border.)

View Our House on the Beach in Anglet in a larger map

First, the stretch of sand is excellent. While yellow and heavily textured, it slowly tapers from the dunes to the water for about 100 yards and contains no seaweed or rocks. Other than the large rocks used to create jetties for erosion control, there are no rocks in the water. The beaches are cleaned and landscaped every morning. The map above illustrates the depth and length of the beach. There are plenty of facilities for lodging, food, drink, and activities (surf lessons, volleyball, etc).

Additionally, there are 10 golf courses within 18 miles (including one right on the beach just 100 yards north of our house).

What is odd is that I have never really heard much about this region, certainly not for its beaches. The French Riviera is world famous, and justifiably so, but it is a much different coastline and beach. While St Tropez has a nice stretch of beach with similarly textured sand, it lacks waves, is more difficult to reach, and is ridiculously more expensive. While I might have to give it additional thought, I think I prefer the Basque coastline to the French Riviera, all things considered.

Biarritz is known as the surf capital of Europe and from what I can tell, it lives up to its reputation. One of the biggest complaints I have about beaches in general, having grown up 1 mile from the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, is the lack of waves. I realize for some people, that is a good thing, but I like to body surf, skim board, and boogie board and you can pretty much forget about that in Europe.

Yesterday, while Zach and Zoe took surfing lessons, I attempted to body surf the waves. Granted, it has been a while since I have attempted to body surf waves this large (5-8 foot faces) but I thought I was up for it. I grew up around the ocean and I'm a decent swimmer and know how to float and tread water to recover my wind and strength.


I was able to wade out about 100 yards, despite being buffeted by wave after wave, till I finally thought I was past the breakers.

And then even bigger waves started breaking. Due to the low tide, the waves were not breaking gradually; they were building and crashing quickly where the water became shallower. I tried to swim under the waves to get past them but the force of the crashing waves extended all the way to the bottom and tossed me around like I was in a washing machine. As soon as I could get my bearings and reach the surface to catch a breath, I would get pummelled by another wave. I was already tired just from swimming out and now I was getting exhausted fighting the waves and I could barely touch the bottom. It actually got a little scary for a moment. Fortunately, I was able to let the next wash carry me in enough to reach waist deep water and walk in to shore exhausted, having not body-surfed a single wave. (See my sister's videos of me at the end of this post.)

Zachary's surfing instructor looked over at me and shook his head as if to say "That was a dangerous thing to try, buddy." I certainly underestimated the power of the waves. Perhaps if I had a boogie board it would have been easier but I'm not sure I could have even gotten out there with a boogie board.

These are some pictures of how nice the beach is and how beautiful the waves are but don't really give you a sense of the size:

Zachary taking surfing lessons

This is a video of a set of waves taken from the tip of the jetty that juts about 100 yards out. Along with the sound, it gives you a good sense of the size and power.

It turns out my sister had two videos of my losing battle with the waves. This first video shows me trying to fight my way out although it is only the beginning part -- it doesn't show the latter parts where I really get pummelled in deeper water. But you still get a good sense of how big and strong the waves are even in the shallower water.

This second video captures me returning defeated and bedraggled and explaining what happened. You can see how exhausted I am. In fact, I was too tired to even realize she was filming me at first.

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