A promising frontal system with gusty SSE winds was expected earlier this month. It finally set up a large swell that rather hit Spain and the western breaks of the french mediterranean. Despite all maps showing 8ft+ on our shores days earlier, it ended up small wrecked by the wind. However here you know the best forecasts result in shitty waves all the time so you learn to appreciate what you have. You can’t really judge from the photo, but it’s 3 foot double-ups and closeouts. Good from afar, far from good, but it was the only game in town.
I am by no means considering myself a core surfer. Surfing isn’t really in my blood, it’s hard to catch a big wave in the Mediterranean. However, there is a kind of addiction in it which is difficult to resist and even more to explain. “Only a surfer knows the feeling”, the usual expression, is a rather grotesque slogan over exploited by corporate advertising bulshit in the unique goal to sell clothes. I guess the reasons have better to do with some kind of perfect visions of nature and the connection that comes from playing with them. I have already spent a fair amount of energy in search of this over the years, sometimes until far remote places of the world. I turned 40 the other day and it seems that getting enough is not for tomorrow. Despite the colossal waste of time it is, like Dora used to say, I intend to keep on doing this for a while, probably as long as I can in fact.
Interesting to see how pumping waves in the Mediterranean Sea are often associated with weird borderline climatic conditions. Storms lashing especially the French Riviera are rare, but not unheard of. There’s usually a few prominent cases every year, of which only a few deliver actual swell up to our southeastern shores. The Mediterranean provides relatively little surface area making it tough for tropical like storms to develop, however it happens and when it does, storm in a tea cup is really what it’s all about.
This one was generated last week by a 992 HPa depression a hundred miles or so west of Corsica island. This configuration is a best-case scenario as it turns on solid south swells, two magic words for hundreds of desperate guys in this part of Europe.
This morning was cold in the south of Landes, but the sky was bright and things would slowly warm up throughout the day. First checks of the local breaks were promising with glass waves on a rising tide that suggested another fun day of surf. But that probably meant also the same crazy crowds and unmanerly players judging from the previous days.
That’s where a bit of experience of the region is helpful when time comes to escape from the mess. Fortunately, this coast stretches over miles of empty beaches, so there’s obviously a few sandbars here or there that are just pumping with no one or almost around. However, to play alone, you’d better know a thing or two: about the hidden accesses to these secrets and when the sandbanks are good, since they are constantly changing from one swell to another.
In these conditions, the ultimate weapon is a bike. The only way to investigate the coast further is exploring dirt tracks winding through a mixed wood forest of pine. Driving there is prohibited, anyway driving, biking, walking or whatever is at the risk of getting lost in a maze of forest paths, with few chances of finding good banks.
But if you had the chance of being initiated, like I was years ago, finding yourself riding a bike loaded with board, wetsuit, water, food and others in tree labyrinths and dunes can be well worth the effort. Not to mention the stoke of being on your own in this sanctuary. As far as I’m concerned, these moments are savoured at fair value, fugit irreparabile tempus.
These days, we are fortunate to have millions of hip and trendy websites that release us from the latest surf news on a daily basis. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that so far, most of them, let’s call them trendy websites, all focus simply on relaying videos and more precisely the same recently-released corporate videos full of pro surfers and perfect waves in exotic locations with the episodic thong bikinis. All these folks set the standard for a quite limited image and creativity always showing the same facet of the sport over and over again.
Fortunately, there are a few exceptions and sometimes, searching a bit further on the web makes it possible to find good stuff among this crap. This is the case of this original “anti-commercial” video edit from John Lynch that brings a vision much closer to the reality of a surf trip experience in remote locations.
As of today, ex-tropical cyclone Nadine has lasted approximately 19 days. Nadine has probably opened the door for a few depressions in the Mediterranean. This is likely to continue since she re-developped a second time into a tropical cyclone on September 24, and is forecasted to move north northwestward in the eastern Atlantic for the next days. So there was a few surf lately in the Mediterranean caused by a couple of moderate wind storms, nothing great, just typical med sessions.
More than anywhere else, surfing in the Mediterranean requires a lot of reactivity. You must always be on the lookout to enjoy these sporadic swells. Right place, right time, conditions come and go in a blink of an eye quite literally. We had another demonstration of how fast and unpredictable this can happen just the other day.
The wind was blowing steadily since hours, producing a decent windswell but pretty bad waves because of a strong onshore everywhere. There was a little hope that the wind could drop a bit in the late afternoon. So I decided to wait for that, hoping that the swell wouldn’t completely disappear in the meantime. I was quietly installed in the back of my van, laying in the convertible sofa bed installed specially so as to keep an eye on the conditions outside.
An hour or so has passed in the muffled sounds produced by gusting winds over the car. Quite suddenly, without any apparent reason, the wind died. This was quite unexpected and to give an idea, these webcam videos show how conditions were like, before, and half an hour later.
In a matter of minutes, the wind picked up again, increasing in strength but in the opposite direction. It only took a few time for the wind to switch 180°, changing the conditions from depressing to almost not bad with now the offshore growing a nice white mane on top of the breaking waves.
That’s when a heavy thunderstorm broke out. Dark clouds followed by intense rain, hail and lightenings hit the area very quickly. The situation could have felt like the end of the world. The storm was big enough to cause a short blackout reported in the local news, but fortunately there was no damage. It was also probably the reason of the rather strange wind behaviour. Such manifestations of nature are not so common, but the chain of events wasn’t finished yet. What happened just after was also funny.
So I was chilling out in my van waiting for the wind to calm down as most meteo models had predicted, and I didn’t expect what was about to happen at this point. The parking was empty and there was barely no one on the beach. The moment I noted the wind had changed and the storm hit, it was glassing off and waves got far better. It all happened rather quickly, but cars started right away to fill up the parking and guys in wetsuits were already into the water. The situation was unreal. While I thought I was alone, all those guys showed up in the middle of this dramatic weather almost at the same time. They just came out from nowhere and did that at the precise moment when the wind turned offshore!
Needless to say, it wasn’t the session by myself I had imagined in my van. Sometimes, I really wonder how med surfers get their information. Anyway, it wasn’t the session of the year but the surf wasn’t too bad.
Despite clean conditions on the pictures above, the swell generated by ex Cat. 1 hurricane Leslie and Cat. 3 hurricane Michael was a bit below expectations. Tide too low over the window of offshore winds, made worse by high tidal coefficients, all this resulted in fast and shifty waves on the exposed beachbeaks. Landes sandbars are fairly fickle especially as the swell gets bigger in size. But as everyone knows they can also get pretty much perfect, so better luck next time!
Now the question is what post tropical cyclone Nadine will do. Until now, it takes a rather unusual southward trajectory. Not so promising for the west area but chances to impact the Mediterranean are growing and maps start to predict a bit of activity. At least things should be interesting the next few days.