We woke to the slushy hiss of waves. It felt like an early summer morning as the sun fought wearily against the morning fog. It was in fact 08:30 but the Continental time changes meant it was only just dawn. It felt strange to be so alert and awake in this light.
The scrape of sliding door of the campervan disturbed the peace of the cliff top car park. The white van was the only vehicle parked in the rusty gravel. I wasn't suprised. We seemed to have left two months later than everyone else on our European coast trip. Every town and village was shuttered up for the winter, brightly coloured signs echoed like ghosts of the tourist filled summer. This strange ambience was reinforced by the gloomy hulks of crumbling military installations that litter the coast.
Today was the first morning with swell. We surfed messy head high waves at an average beach break north of Les Sables D'Olonne. With the first surf of the trip under our belts we relaxed a little and decided to drive down the coast to a beach we'd visited four years ago.
We stopped at a few beaches and reefs as we drove, but the surf was tattered by the wind everywhere we looked. We got lost several times, and the French road signs didn't help to ease the building tension in the van. It seems that the French like to ensure maximum concentration from drivers by hiding road signs behind shrubs and billboards. Another tactic is to put them on roundabouts, but only visible from the other direction. This meant we had a queazy looking dog after several trips around some large junctions. We had some cupboard opening exits from the main roads onto small forest tracks (cupboard openers are sharp, hair raising turns for those of you uninitiated in the world of campervans).
Eventually we parked up on the side of a sandy road carpetted with pine needles. The moist still air in the forest gave away nothing about the conditions on the beach, only fifty yards away. The sheltered trees were covered with thick moss and fungus, their yellowed leaves ready to submit to the brewing Atlantic storms.
We slogged up the dune ridge, expectations low. But we were stopped dead by the sight of perfectly groomed, shoulder high waves. How was this possible when the surf was a mess half an hour north? We didn't stop to ponder the question and raced back to the van to get changed.
The surf was at it's much cliched best that afternoon. Classic French beach break with powerful, hollow waves. You've seen pictures of it before, so I won't waste words describing it. Rest assured it was great, each wave demanding you're full attention as you tried to find as much speed as possible to make the next section.
It was a great example of why exploring the coast by van is such a great way to get good surf. If it's junky in one place then why not drive down the coast a bit and see what's round the next corner. Seek and ye shall find