The Southwest of France is spoilt rotten with an abundance of available places to surf, from reefy point breaks, to endless stretches of sandy beach breaks. Amongst these numerous surf spots, one in particular seems to stand out in every surfers mind. The spot that has forged itself onto the world surfing stage and instilled a sense of awe and respect in many. Hossegor. But why or how Hossegor? Why not any of other places in the Southwest?
First of all, we need to take a look at the bottom of the Atlantic. We are off to a good start already when we see that the Bay of Biscay is shaped like a giant underwater funnel extending from the North Atlantic, down into the whole Southwest of France. This allows powerful open-ocean Atlantic swells to travel uninterrupted for miles through deep water, before reaching the SW coastline. Then things start to get a bit freaky when we take a closer look at Hossegor.
It just so happens that Mother Nature gifted the area with something called the “Gouf de Capbreton”. This mythical gouf is actually a deep underwater canyon that cuts through the continental shelf, connecting the Bay of Biscay’s deep water drop off, to the stable sandbanks of Hossegor. It essentially collects incoming swells, then further intensifies them through refraction, until they are finally unleashed at the focus point, or the apex of the canyon. In this case it’s the hellman outer-banks of La Nord, and another inside bank called La Graviere or something. The canyon also provides a handy channel for paddling out at La Nord when its big. Similar effects of bathymetry can be found at other waves such as Puerto Escondido, Blacks, and Nazare.
Many believe the gouf was created by the Rive Adour, which did in fact exit through Capbreton/Hossegor for many millennia. However, the canyon was actually forged through tectonic plate movements, which inherently lead to the Rive Adour to find its natural path to the sea via the gouf. This was until Charles IX ordered the final diversion of the Adour to Bayonne which was finally achieved in 1578. Cheers Charles!
(Images; Surfline, H.Gillet- University de Bordeaux, Cover @baptistehaugomatphotog)