Unlike the long, flat, dune-backed beaches that occupy the rest of France’s Atlantic coast, Brittany’s landscape is rugged and varied, with countless inlets and peninsulas, each with their own distinctive character.
The waves around this unspoilt stretch of coastline are just as varied. Rocky reefs, point breaks, sandy beaches and sheltered coves all offer different wave conditions, and the Atlantic swells provide something for all tastes and abilities.
In the winter months, the coastline is battered by big swells and erratic weather, while summer offers gentler waves combined with light morning offshore winds. Spring and autumn see consistent swells and mild weather, making these seasons the ideal time for a surf trip. However, as local junior surfer Aurélien Buffet explains: “the jagged coastline means that whatever the orientation of the waves or the wind, those willing to explore will always find a good spot to surf.”
The town of Penmarc’h is the focal point of Brittany’s surf scene, with the main break of La Torche serving up consistent rights and lefts breaking over soft white sands. To the south, you’ll find Pors Carn, which hosts a gentle right hander on a high tide reef. Thanks to the curve of the bay, the waves remain clean here on a variety of wind directions, making it a reliable base for a day of surfing.
The beach is also the site of the 29 HOOD surf club and school – the central hang-out for Brittany’s surf community. Established by talented local surfers Thomas Joncour and Alan L’Helgoualc’h, 29 HOOD prides itself on much more than just teaching people to surf.
“I think technique is just about 10 percent of what I teach through my surf lessons,” Joncour explains. “Most of it is helping people to feel what a unique outdoor activity surfing is.”
Joncour is well versed in the abundant surfing spoils of his beautiful homeland and has always been keen to share his wealth of knowledge.
“They founded this club as a place for kids to train and develop their surfing in a community environment,” says professional surfer Ian Fontaine, who grew up under Joncour’s tutelage. “He taught me that surf culture is about discovering places and being passionate and adventurous.”
To the north of Penmarc’h, the spectacular “Solar Wind Road” hugs the coastline, giving surfers the opportunity to explore the 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) of beach break peaks that extend into the distance. The bright lights of the town quickly make way for a patchwork of fields, which back right onto the dunes. Thanks to a local law, no new development is permitted within 300 meters of the beach, ensuring this pristine stretch remains idyllic for centuries to come.
You rarely lose sight of the sea as you wind your way north, past a procession of tiny ancient chapels and into the town of Plozévet. Here, shaper Robin Goffinet, of Robsurfboards, specialises in creating hand-crafted custom boards, using the most environmentally friendly materials available. His designs include an innovative model using a natural cork core, instead of foam.
Further north, across the Baie de Douarnenez, you’ll discover another of Finistère’s most stunning surfing hotspots, the Crozon peninsula. Along its western edge sits La Palue beach, which picks up all available Atlantic swell, making it one of the most consistent breaks in the region. Long walls with occasional barreling sections peel along this expansive white sand beach, bookended by craggy outcrops.
Following the coast round, you’ll reach Plouguerneau, where narrow coves and towering cliffs present a stark contrast to the low-lying land and wide open beaches of South Finistère. Granite boulders worn smooth by thousands of years of Atlantic onslaught tumble down into a series of coves, where the waves break fast and hollow at high tide. While this stretch favours larger swells, more common in autumn and winter, it’s well worth a look in the summer months too. Spend a sunny afternoon hiking the coast, searching for a secluded peak among the rocks.
And therein lies the true magic in the Brittany surfing experience: the opportunity to explore an unspoilt coastline, surrounded by beautiful scenery, breathe in the fresh sea air and maybe find your own slice of surfing solitude.
There’s so much for everyone in Brittany. To find out more about Brittany’s activities and outdoor adventures, visit brittanytourism.com.