© 2019 by Molokai Surf.

Brief history of surfing in Biarritz, France

February 7, 2018

We all know France for its Eiffel Tower, baguettes, and wine. But who knew France would be a destination for surfing? Little do people know, the coastal town of Biarritz is known for exceptional surfing and one of the best in Europe. Surf lovers in Europe need not to travel to the more exotic and distant destinations to feed their appetite. They are quite abound with great surf spots in local destinations across Europe. Biarritz being among the most famous. We'll give you a brief backdrop as to how this happened:


Surfing on the Basque coast started in September 1956 when movie producers moved into the scene to film the movie "The Sun Rises", which was based on an Ernest Hemingway novel.  Film producer Richard Zanuck and screenwriter Peter Viertel came to Biarritz from California for the film. Richard Zanuck was a passionate surfer who brought a surfboard along with him. The French had never seen anything like this. However, Richard had to depart back to California early which left Peter to show the French what surfing meant. But Peter did not know how to surf. He grasped the concept easily with the help of Georges Hennebutte who would go on and invent the infamous (and at times annoying) surf leash. 


Surfing in Biarritz is born. 


There were still problems. Biarritz did not produce surfboards so surfers had to bring their surfboards from faraway places. Most of these boards came from California. Eventually, the French began to design their own. This is  how the Tonton surfers emerged. Frenchmen from across Biarritz, who were passionate for the new watersport, were now working and surfing together. These surfers became renowned not only in France, but across the world. 


Still to find or manufacture boards, something that is not done at the time in Biarritz. Replicas of the single board were made and another board is brought from California, so that at the end of the summer of 1957, the Basque Coast has 4 surfers initiated: Peter Viertel, George Hennebutte, Jacky Rott and Joel from Rosnay. Other boards are sent from California and with the number of boards, the surfer community is growing. Young people can recover lost or broken boards to get started too. This is how the Tontons Surfers are born: André Plumcoq, Robert Bergeruc, Pierre Laharrague, Joseph and Jo Moraïz and Bruno Reinhardt. Rott and Barland, then a mechanical engineer, team up to make the first French plastic surfboards.


September 16, 1959 was a very important day for the surf lover in France. It was the day where the first surf club was founded called the Waikiki Surf Club. The Surf Club was established by well-known surfers Peter Viertel, Jacques Rott, George Hennebutte, Joel Rosnay, Michel Barland and Carlos Dogny. From now on, competitions and contests were held not only in Biarritz, but across the Basque Coast. These competitions included international competitions, European tournaments, and French tournaments.


By the time the 1960-70s arrive, surfing in Biarritz became an attraction. People from across the world combined France with surfing, an almost unimaginable thought. Competitions still take place and surfing now has become a really important factor in the identity of Biarritz. Surf shops are abound in Biarritz and across the Basque coast. A trend that continues to grow till this day.

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