As a solo female traveller and first time surfer, I was quite apprehensive about going on a surfing trip all by myself. The destination was important, as I wanted a short flight and to be located by the beach. After some online research I settled on a holiday surfing Cote d’Argent in France – I hope you enjoy my review of Feral Surf camp in Le Pin Sec near Naujac-sur-Mer.
The region of Bordeaux is stunning, and the beaches are renowned for their consistent surf at any time of year. This is largely due to the funnel shape of the Bay of Biscay. The fact it is not overly populated during the summer season is also a plus. Located close to several seaside towns and based in one of the largest wine districts in France, what’s not to like?
In the end, choosing a surf camp proved easy. I settled on Feral Surf Tours. The website looked fun, promised great results for first time surfers, as well as technical improvements for the more experienced riders. The package included airport collection, meals and lessons, and pointed to a lot of post-surf fun and games too.
Once my decision was made, flights booked, and arrangements with Feral Surf Tours confirmed, I was on my way. I arrived at Bordeaux airport eager to explore the camp and beach. I was collected by camp driver, Dave (camp encyclopaedia and chief entertainer), and an hour’s drive later, I had arrived.
The Feral Surf Camp ‘Tipi Village’ is quirky with amazing white tipis for guests, funky vintage caravans and a central shaded hammock area. There is a Moroccan chill out garden and a wooden communal hut, complete with bar and games.
The tipis are comfortable and surprisingly spacious with proper beds, carpet flooring, lighting and even UK plugs. I especially enjoyed the welcome pack of pink toilet roll, bottled water and a fleece blanket – glamping in style. The beds are surprisingly comfortable and it’s a real luxury to fall asleep listening to the roar of the waves each night.
Le Pin Sec camp is nestled between a forest of pine trees and the lush white sand dunes that reach out to water’s edge. Surrounded by miles of beach on either side, it’s a spectacular setting. The panoramic beach sunsets are stunning and not to be missed.
The site itself is fairly basic, with the usual toilet and shower blocks that are regularly cleaned. Although a few more showers and toilets would be a welcome addition, as these blocks are shared with the surrounding public campsite and an international surf camps for teenagers.
A small supermarket, coffee shop and restaurant are available and if you want quick eats, Chicken Lilly’s seem to be popular with locals and campers alike. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards from July to September, and it’s a hit with locals at the weekend but pretty peaceful during the week.
It can be a fun camp (drinking games), a chilled camp (sunbathing, hammocks) a quirky camp (a Moroccan garden in France) but in the end it’s a surf camp, with a capital ‘S’. Lessons are excellent and depending on the amount of guests and their experience, there are several 90-minute lessons a day.
Beginner lessons generally take place first thing in the morning. The surf instructors, headed up by Nic, clearly love the job and I always felt safe in the water. Lessons also included an education in the ways of the wave (green, white, barrel, glass). But it was all a bit lost on me, as a novice.
Don’t expect to go beyond the white wave or to master the board on your first lesson. Falling in, swallowing salt water and being swept off your feet, is all part of the fun (seriously).
The waves, as I learnt, are fast and unforgiving to the inexperienced eye. Actually, it’s what makes this region famous for surfing. Confidence came with practice and soon I was falling off the board with no fear at all.
Lessons for the more experienced surfer take things up a notch. Intermediate surfing covers managing a wave’s peak, turning, speed and body positioning. Although I heard that paddling through the white onto the green waves was the hardest part. Even I could feel my biceps improving with each stroke.
A real bonus was experiencing ‘dawny’ and sunset surfs, when everyone surfed together, for the simple pleasure of it. This created a lovely surf camp atmosphere meaning you all felt part of the same ‘crew’ regardless of your ability.
Drinking games, board games, The Weakest Link – Feral style. Staff go out of their way to make sure you are entertained day and night. Be prepared to get addicted to perhaps the most unlikely game you’ll find at a surf camp – Scrabble. The ‘is that really a word?’ debate was a regular feature and mostly settled by camp encyclopaedia, Dave.
Part of the Feral Surf Tours approach is that the staff eat and socialise with you, so there is a buzz around camp and always something to do. Likewise, if you want a quiet moment away from it all, that’s completely respected too. They are also really passionate about surfing – which is definitely addictive – and happy to share their experiences. Watching the staff get excited about the waves heightened my own expectations, and they rarely failed to deliver.
I can honestly say that the instructors put your safety first. The ratio of instructors to clients is generous and the boards all seem fairly new. All staff are experienced and qualified instructors, and trained lifeguards too.
Speaking from my personal experience, I lost my inhaler and struggled in the water without it. This resulted in the end of my participation in group lessons. And despite my subtle and not so subtle manipulation attempts to get around this, safety came first. Note to self – bring more than one inhaler on future holidays (annoyed? just a little bit).
Don’t bring many Euros as a tab is created on arrival for any extras – drinks, extra lessons etc. Everything is calculated in sterling and given the exchange rate, it’s quite a shrewd business decision.
A trip to the local market costs £3. A trip to the local chateau for wine tasting cost about £20. Extra surf lessons cost £15 and board hire is £10. Everyone heads to the next town Montalivet for a meal on Friday evening. I recommend the mussels and a visit to ice cream shop (pistachio and tiramisu – happiness in a cone).
If you’re bored after your surf and have any leftover energy, why not hire a bike? You can pedal through the quiet pine forest on peaceful cycle lanes. After about six kilometres you will reach Montalivet. I took the opportunity to enjoy a coffee and ice cream looking out over the beach. Strangely enough, fuelled with sugar and caffeine, the cycle back was quicker.
This was excellent, with breakfast consisting of boiled eggs, fresh croissants, cereal, fruit, yogurt as well as tea/coffee. Not being a morning person, I appreciated the leisurely pace. Lunch is a salad or sandwich, crisps and fruit. Dinner tends to be a carb fest, due to the nature of the day’s activities.
I never felt hungry or the need to buy extra food – aside from the odd cheeky ice cream. The kitchen itself is amazing, as all food is prepared and cooked in a small caravan that has been fully kitted out. Wonders are created in such a tiny space by Ellis the camp cook.
My only criticism would be that in a nation of coffee drinkers, the camp coffee is instant. It’s a minor point though, as the coffee shop is only 50 metres away. Also, the use of ‘plastic’ cheese at the BBQ was strange, again it’s a country famed for cheese.
Arriving at the end of June I expected it to be hot. But on two occasions the temperature hit 40 degrees. Coming from a damp cold Northern Ireland, I was surprised how well I coped. The benefits of camping by the beach – the cool air, the cool water and ice cream on tap – certainly helped.
Bring a high factor sunscreen (I used factor 50), and I also recommend a hat. Also, buy a hand held fan – you won’t regret it. You may resemble Lady Windermere but who cares – practicality over image every time.
The little blighters are everywhere and gather in the toilets at night, ready to pounce. I recommend bringing repellent and some sort of portable bug zapper for those midnight calls of nature. They are the nemesis of the average camper, and unavoidable.
The measures are huge and the glasses are small. Enough said.
One word of warning. Beware Old Nick. Don’t go near this alcoholic – infused with week old socks – drink. It is foul and used as a punishment – so be good. Also be warned, never lose a game and if anyone asks if you want a drink at the bar, under no circumstances say ‘surprise me’.
Yes with bells on. Look out for Groupon deals.
The Feral Surf Tours ethos is based on having the best surfing and camp experience possible. You will chill out and lose the inhibitions of routine, structure and the trappings of technology. The commercial way of everyday life falls away in favour of beach living when surfing Cote d’Argent in France.
Fall asleep in a hammock and enjoy the sensation of sand between your toes. Watch the sunset, paddle in the sea and no matter how bad you surf, take pleasure in it. Speak to new people, trade stories, play games and laugh out loud with staff and fellow guests.
Thanks to all Feral Surf staff for an excellent holiday, especially Nell who manages the whole affair, Phil, Nic, Neo (I fell in love with this cute and loving dog), Ellis, Simon, Ana, Dave and the rest of the staff who arrived mid week. The holiday was fun from start to finish and I wish I could have stayed longer surfing Feral Surf Camp in Le Pin Sec surfing Cote d’Argent in France.