Moving away from the sea is every surfer's worst nightmare. Well, that and an ACL injury. But sometimes; work, family commitments, job opportunities, the need to pay a mortgage, raise a family closer to home – they can all draw you inland and shift your lifestyle from aquatic playground to bustling metropolis.
Spare a thought or whimsical nod for those ocean-goers who have been forced away from the water, for whatever reason. Those who now live dozens, hundreds, thousands of miles from their local beachie, reef et al but still put in the leg work to take a dip in the drink. They're our Landlocked kin, which is the focus of this fresh MSW series, casting a spotlight on those communities who just make it work.
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Those who up and shift locale, but never really truly leave. Those who move to the big city but end up cultivating their own surfing culture, and, those who have one finger on the pulse and the other on the back door – we salute that.
And let's face it, road trips to your favourite spot are part of the journey. For instance, when you think of Paris, surfing isn't likely going to top your agenda. It's all Arch du Triumph and Eiffell Tower and fine wine, dining; to play to the stereotype. But nestled in the city of romance's exquisite architecture is a thriving community of ocean-goers who have all ended up in the l'hexagone's capital for one reason or another.
Aurelien Bacquet is one of those landlocked locals. Originally from northern France, he moved to Paris to further his career as a freelance photographer and has since helped setup surf events in the city as well as trips to the coast to keep the fire alive.
“I’ve been in Paris for 10 or 11-years now. I moved here to study photography and stayed after I got out of school,” he told MSW. “Now I’ve got most of my friends here, my wife moved from the US to Paris, my clients are here as well. I don’t really see any way out.”
Aurelien was originally from Lille, 140 miles north and then east of Paris, towards the border of Belgium. “I’ve always been skating in my hometown, surfing just felt right when I was by the ocean. We’ve got a family house in Bretagne where I use to spend every holidays with my parents as a kid. They didn’t want me to surf at first because they were scared of the waves, and they made me try windsurfing instead. It didn’t really work and after a couple years of windsurfing, I was able to try surfing. I was 13 or 14 and I was hooked.
“I still remember that day so clearly. The surf school took us to Port Rhu in Quiberon. Now it’s the closest thing I have to a home spot, I had some of the best sessions of my life there, as well as some of the worst. It can be pretty gnarly sometimes.”
For an outsider, it’s probably hard to imagine there is a surf scene in Paris. Between work and family obligations, it’s not easy to just go surfing when you live and work in the city.
“Nonetheless, some of us drop everything to head west when the waves are good,” said Aurelien. “You get a bunch of waves and it makes you feel better instantly.
“Then you come back to Paris and wait for the next session. I think there is some kind of energy going on here with local surfers. We don’t have waves in our backyard so we have to compensate somewhere else and there are surf-related projects flourishing in Paris every year. It goes from guys shaping 'made in Paris' surfboards to monthly meet-ups about surfing and surf-initiatives.
We don’t have waves in our backyard so we have to compensate somewhere else and there are surf-related projects flourishing in Paris every year
“My friend Joran Briand started a road book called West is the Best. It explores the way creatives across the world create balance between their work and the need to be by the ocean. I find that very inspiring to read stories of other people in a situation just like mine, and the way they make things work.”
What's the best thing about a Parisian surfer though? “When there is a swell coming, you don’t do it the easy way and go to your home spot. You head where the conditions will be the best. When you’re already driving for four hours, why not add a couple more hours to get the best out of your little getaway?”
Surf is What You Make of It
The closest spots to Paris would be in Normandy. “Specifically, Etretat where there is a fun left hand pointbreak at the bottom of the cliffs. It’s a gorgeous place and only two and a half hours away from town.”
A bit further, and still in Normandy, there’s Siouville on the Cotentin peninsula. But that's an extra hour's drive for Parisians. “But a nice and mellow beachbreak. It’s usually not very crowded and works mostly during the winter.
“We also go to Vendée for punchy beachies like Bud Bud. If you’re looking for barrels close to Paris, that’s where you should go. It’s a good four hours away. It takes a bit of commitment for a day trip but it’s feasible.”
Want to know when Hossegor's going off? See HERE
Like most places across Europe, it pays to have a car. Sure, you can reach some spots by train but that limits your movements, especially in more rural parts of France.
“It’s also a short three hour flight from Paris to Agadir and the tickets are rather cheap,” said Aurelien. “A lot of people go there for weekends when it gets good and enjoy the incredibly long rights of Taghazout. It’s faster to get there than driving to la Torche or Hossegor.”
As for how many sufers there are in Pairs? “It’s hard to say how many surfers live here. There’s this huge online community called Surfers from Paris on Facebook. It has more than 8,000 members now and grew very quickly over the past few years I think.
Our goal is to share the bizarre lifestyle of being landlocked surfers for whom every session is a real surf trip
“I doubt everyone on this group really lives in Paris, but if you’re new in town and want to meet people to go surfing or just hang out with, it’s great!
“I’d say there are a few hundred people really committed to surfing and that you see regularly in the water and wouldn’t be surprised to meet randomly in Morocco, Bali, or on any french beach.”
A few years ago now, Aurelien started up Wrecked Paris, a website dedicated to lives of the landlocked.
“I met my wife in California and for a few years I was living in between Paris and Los Angeles. When we settled in Paris it was tough to be landlocked and stuck in its greyness. I wanted to re-create some kind of Californian vibe around me. It can sound foolish but to me it’s almost therapeutic... honestly.
“Through Surfers from Paris, I met other people down for this project and we started it together. Now we’re three behind that, two french and one guy from LA who now lives in Paris.
“Our goal is to share the bizarre lifestyle of being landlocked surfers for whom every session is a real surf trip. We also try to put Paris on the map of surf cities by organising surf film premieres and other kind of surf events.
“It is important for us to have surf events here. I guess it helps us not feel like weirdos when we take the subway with our boards.
As for being happy as a city surfer: “I’m equally happy when I leave town and when I come back. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a day or a month.
“Nothing better than a cold beer at the terrasse of your favourite PMU. Mine happens to be in Paris. Other than that; family, friends, work, and an ever changing city that really is fascinating, keeps me sane.”
Do you live inland, amongst a surfing community? Hit us up in the comments. All images from by Aurelien Bacquet.