There are probably as many surf camps on offer as there are surfers in the sea. But there aren’t many that are so charming, authentic and original as Surf Affinity. We went to the French Atlantic coast to end the summer with them
Words by Anna Langer, photos by Kirsten Mohs
Titled “lifestyle package", this is really what you get as Coz and Lou, founders and organisers of Surf Affinity camps, live it themselves. Instead of the pubertal school trip atmosphere or impersonal standards you experience in most camps, the Surf Affinity camps brim with love and devotion – and the delicious home cooked meals are only the smallest part of it.
Arriving at their cute little camp with gazebos, dangling shell strings and a tomato garden in Vieux Boucau, we instantly felt welcome and at home. The beach is just a short walk over the massive sand dune and far from the crowded towel next to towel sights you get around Hossegor and Seignosse.
While it always seems a bit risky to bring a bunch strange girls together that couldn’t be more different and put them in tents with just one mirror and the next bathroom a little stroll over the campsite away, our experience once again proofed all clichés and prejudices wrong. As in the end it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you do in real life, whether you use your hand mirror to put on make up at the garden table or only understand every third word that is spoken – we all came for one thing and that is surfing.
Unlike the “explorer package", that is on offer during most of July and August, the lifestyle week at Surf Affinity not only includes guiding to the best surf spots around the area but also professional lessons. For this they teamed up with sunshine girl Ashleigh Bennetts from the O’Neill Surf Academy in Cornwall, who for this week brought along her tiny bit crazy surfer and lifeguard friend Katie. Together they make up a team of instructors you can only wish for.
Standing waist deep in the water with you likewise in blazing sunshine or pouring rain (which we luckily only had on the last day), they gave personal advice for each of us, pushed us into waves, cheered and high fived the smallest progressions and took pictures and filmed the group for pissing your pants funny and incredibly useful analysis of wipe outs and successes. A more than welcome change to the majority of French surf schools that more than often overcrowd their breaks with sometimes more twenty people at once in the water, with uber cool surf instructors shouting indefinable commands at their students – if they don’t just whistle confusingly in all directions.
“We don’t need to rush our lessons, we have a whole week here. I rather teach you small steps and give you a good technique you can build up from, than get you to stand up on the first day," says Ashleigh. And it works. Not only did even girls who have never really been in the ocean learn to love it, but also all of us stood up sooner or later (and for longer or shorter).
But the surf lessons are only half of the deal. Be it a mountain bike ride around the picturesque village, sea front yoga lessons with pro snowboarder Caroline Beliard or beach BBQs, the four girls share the whole camp life with the participants and are always around for a talk, a helpful hand and a giggle. Especially the Cornish whirlwinds Katie and Ash made sure the smiles never faded and showed everyone how you really shake your bum when the DJ plays them dancehall tunes.
One of the biggest parts of the surf lifestyle is the community though. Besides Coz, Lou, Ash and Katie joining us in the water (okay, way behind our white waters in the proper waves) to get their own surf on, the camp was also frequently visited by various other wave affecionados and friends like Dutch globetrotter, power women and massage therapist Mirjam. Besides sharing the most inspiring tales from her nine years of travelling the world by herself, she also gave us the massage of a lifetime.
Being treated on top of a sand dune followed by a sunset surf under pink clouds is already an experience that stands for itself, but her mix of physiotherapy, Chinese medicine and stretching leaves you feeling like a whole new person. Best example was quiet and reserved Nicola, who came to the camp by herself. After the week she had not only completely lost her shyness, but even had to be dragged out of the water, which left her a bit surprised herself. “Of course I expected the camp to be fun, but I never thought I’d enjoy myself this much!" she reconciled on the last night, that was almost completely torn apart by a huge thunderstorm.
While stopping tents and gazebos from spreading across the whole campsite by holding on with your bare hands (or hand, if you clutch to a bottle of Bordeaux with the other one), always brings people together, this group wouldn’t even have needed this extra bonding. Teaching the Cooler photographer bad words, laughing over the two British girlies Caroline and Sue’s “jazz hands" on the board and hair shakes on the beach or making fun of the Cooler editors bikini surf attempts and yoga positioning on the board had already done the deal. Big time.
Rarely was an event ended with so many hugs, number exchangings and promises for a reunion (Oktoberfest here we come on one end and green waves in Cornwall on the other), and rushing to the airport almost missing our flights with so much reluctance. Affinity is actually not even close to describing to the feeling you live with from here.