We dared to catch up with freelance writer, book author, and surfer Melanie to ask about life on the French beaches… (which we would swap for in the blink of an eye!)
Interview by Anna Langer
I really love the French lifestyle down here in the Southwest. The people are very relaxed and all seem to be just happy to live here, close to the ocean. You walk through Capbreton, the village I’m living in, and see all these old French men playing boule, chatting, laughing and drinking. It is contagious and immediately makes you smile as well. Happiness can be so easy. I also really kind of calmed down here as the French people are doing everything a lot slower than we Germans. A simple example: in the supermarket, everyone takes their time, they wait until you have packed your bags until they start cashing the next customer and nobody is really annoyed or grumpy because of this. It is just very relaxing. When I still lived in Munich, the grumpy people in the streets sometimes stressed me a lot and there are so many impressions in the city that you don’t really have the time to concentrate on something or yourself. Of course, I sometimes get stressed here as well, but then I just go to the ocean which is only 5 minutes from our house and immediately feel so free and happy. You just have to imagine that there is nothing between you and New York except the ocean, I find this stunning every time I look at the horizon!
I had worked as German editor for the European snowboard mag Onboard in Munich for 3 years, and got the feeling that it was time to move on. I was always traveling a lot with my boyfriend, spending every cent to get to the waves so at some point I just thought it doesn’t make sense anymore to live in the city. We had always agreed that we want to live at the ocean one day and so when I quit my job, I said to him: now or never! I didn’t want to end up regretting that I never tried… At first, we weren’t sure which country to move to though, somewhere in the tropics was no option as we wanted to keep up our European lifestyle and still be able to see our families and friends as often as we would like. In the end we had two European countries we had already been to several times and really liked: France and Portugal. It was not an easy choice: we both speak French and really loved summer there, but we’re afraid of the “horror stories” about dark, wet, surf-less winters. On the other hand, we didn’t know any Portuguese or summer there but had already experienced great winters with epic surf. In the end, the language made the difference and I’m sure it was the right decision as the winter isn’t bad at all: you can still get really good surf, the water doesn’t get too cold (around 12 degrees) and you can easily surf with a 4/3, booties and a hood all winter long. And I really appreciate the empty lineups during these months…
Surfing is the one thing I arrange my life around. I used to love snowboarding a lot too but surfing is just way more pure: you don’t have to buy lift tickets, just equipment and once you found the right board, you surf it until it breaks or you find another magic one. You don’t just buy a new board every season because you don’t like the graphics anymore… You paddle out there yourself and if you don’t like crowds (like me), you can always find an empty peak with not much more effort than a short walk through the forest. It’s just you, you and the waves, nothing else counts, it is almost a bit like meditation I think. Surfing just makes me a happier person and after each session I’m so full of energy. Surfing is so simple but gives you so much. It is really funny because I never really noticed what surfing does to me until I saw some pictures of me surfing: I smiled on each single picture! Not just smiling a bit but really smiling with the mouth wide open which sometimes looks really funny.
I grew up in a small village in Germany, close to the Austrian border near Salzburg and started snowboarding when I was 13. Before I was skiing a lot but never really liked it and also really sucked at it. Immediately I was hooked and when we finally got a halfpipe at my home spot I was there right after school until it got dark. They had floodlight there but only switched it on for the Snowboard National Team but sometimes I could talk the lift dudes into switching it on only for me for one hour and I had the pipe just to myself. Magic moments and I’m still smiling when remembering it. I was a passionate Onboard reader, but completely forgot about it studying in Munich and freelancing for some local magazines, when one day my boyfriend saw an ad in a big German newspaper, looking for a German editor for Onboard. BAM! I immediately applied for the job and there I was. Dreams always come true…
I’m so thankful for my time at Onboard as this was what I had dreamt of as a teenager and it is only thanks to them that I’m now able to work as a freelancer in the boardsports industry. I’m now writing for magazines like Cooler, HUCK or Golden Ride but also get hired by companies to work on their catalogue texts or marketing campaigns. I also dedicate a lot of my time to books that I write together with Bernie, my husband. Just two weeks ago, we published The Surf Trip Survival Guide, a book that tells you anything you need to know when you get skunked on a surf trip: eg. how to deal with localism, what to do in case of a shark attack or which bikini is wipeout-proof.
I never had a plan for my life, I think that is the most important thing to think about: don’t plan anything, just have an idea of where you would like to go in life, what you expect from life and how your life in general should look like and then you will get there. It sounds a bit cheesy but: just go with the flow and don’t force anything. I always wanted to live a simple life. Money or a career is not that important to me. Of course I want to live okay, be able to travel and buy myself a surfboard or pay for my yoga classes but I don’t need a big car or lots of expensive clothes.
When I was 23, I got myself a tattoo that says “live life to the fullest”. I don’t want to say that everyone should tattoo their life’s philosophy on their body but this tattoo always reminds me to try to live the life I imagine. And for me this had to do with the sports I love so much – snowboarding and surfing. But I think I might have never have gotten that first job at Onboard, if I hadn’t finished my studies and worked for mainstream magazines, which was hard work as I often worked during the summer when most of my fellow students went on holidays or spent months abroad – but it gave me enough self-confidence to do a job that some might thing would be better suited for a man. I always got along better with guys than girls actually – probably because they shared my passion for snowboarding while none of the girls I knew did. I think that’s the same for other girls in the industry, when you share the same passion as they do, they won’t treat you different. At least that’s my experience.
I also never experienced much machoism in the lineup. I think it is actually harder for men in the lineup! Most of them smile when you paddle out and they notice you are a girl, as there are not too many girls surfing in France (except for the main peaks in summer). But they do test you: if they see that you fall on your first wave, then they will take every wave from now on. When they see that you can actually surf, they respect you and won’t paddle with you for every wave. Of course, moste of the guys are way stronger and could get any wave they want, but if you are polite and smile, they will let you go for your waves for sure. If you paddle out with an arrogant or aggressive attitude (unfortunately there are some girls who do this), they will meet you with the same attitude. Give and take. But I think this works for both genders. I often see foreigners paddling out to the main peaks around Hossegor, fighting the locals for waves and then act surprised when they get dropped in at or yelled at. There are so many waves here and in summer we always look for our own secret break. You just have to walk through the pine forests and you will find the perfect sand bank with no one out! This is so much more rewarding and relaxing than driving to the parking spot in Seignosse, hiking over the dune and battling for waves with 40 people.
One of my favourite trips ever was our first one to Sri Lanka, just one year after the tsunami. The people were so happy that there were still tourists coming to their country, while at the same time it was really sad seeing so many people still living in tents and with no running water etc. One day we took a TukTuk (one of the locals three-wheeled cabs) to check out a surf spot and the driver told us that he had lost all his family in the tsunami: his wife and his two daughters. A really sad moment. But Sri Lanka is a great country and when we went back for our honeymoon last November it was good to see that most of the people have taken on with their lives. The surf was amazing there, too and it was good to see that more and more locals kids take on surfing – 7 years ago we almost saw no local surfing!
I’m not scared of getting old, actually it is quite a fascinating idea! You are getting old but are happy because you always accepted what life had offered you. I could easily imagine myself still living at the ocean and going longboarding with Bernie and our kids. But I know that Bernie loves the mountains a lot so maybe we also might be living in a small wooden lodge somewhere in the Alpes and going snowboarding with our kids…
To find out more about Mel and her work head over to lovingletters.de