From body boarding (the easiest type of surfing) to kayak-surfing and kite-surfing in strong winds, to beach volleyball on the hot sands, a range of thrilling sports and simple ball games make the coast a wonderful place to play. These activities also reflect a true ‘French culture’ with their inventors, champions, and favourite spots known the world over, whether on the Atlantic coastline or the Mediterranean Sea.
Surfing and Windsurfing: Surfing France, Long Board France, AFF, FFV
Glide down the waves or use the wind to leap above them (the tricky windsurf technique the French call funboard).
Many sea resorts have their own school or club. The best-known spots for surfing are notably the Landes and Basque coastlines (classic and long board), whereas the windy coasts along the Atlantic front, Brittany, and Provencal are best-known for windsurfing.
Kneeling or lying on a body board (also known locally as a “boogie” or a “Morey”) is an easier way to enjoy the thrill of the waves without having to keep your balance standing up. It is therefore quick and easy to learn, especially for younger surfers.
Calm, still waters are the usual setting for this version of ‘waterskiing with a surfboard,’ but it can also be fun on ocean waves. Not to be confused with ‘waveboarding’ (also known as ‘casterboarding’), which is a wheeled, skateboarding type of activity.
Wave surfing or Kayak-surfing
Kayak-surfing is a cross between kayaking and surfing. It was notably developed by Australian lifeguards but has been practiced in France for the past 25 years. It also has its own competitions (including a world championship that draws competitors from 20 countries). The technique involves paddling a kayak to catch the thrust of the waves.
This ‘wind-driven’ board sport is a French invention and has been a French specialty for the past 10 to 15 years or so. A Frenchman currently holds the world speed record for a sailing vessel on water, hitting nearly 50 knots. (Only a hydropter, a kind of futuristic hydrofoil also invented by the French, can match this kind of speed). Kite-surfing is ideal along the windy coastlines of Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Brittany and Normandy, not forgetting La Vendée.
Tahitian Va’a or Hawaiian Wa’a
These outrigger canoes can now be found in France. The dugout canoe with stabilizing floats formerly enabled Polynesians to travel not only from island to island, but also across the Pacific. Nowadays the Va’a is both a traditional form of transport and a sport that appeals to all kinds of people. International competitions and clubs in France are raising its profile.
Whereas scuba diving with an oxygen tank requires a certain technical competence, a promenade along the surface of the water with a mask, snorkel and flippers makes it easy to observe the shallower depths, which are also very lively. This venerable activity is now finding a new lease on life thanks to resorts that have ‘blazed trails’ and laid-out ‘marine pathways.’ The coasts near Saint Raphael (Côte d’Azur) and Porto Vecchio (Corsica), for example, are perfect locations for snorkelling.
The thrill of speed
Land yachts and kite buggies
A classic land yacht is composed of a light hull set on three wheels and equipped with a mast and sail not unlike a sailboard. A kite buggy is a single seat with three wheels, drawn by a kite. Thus you can not only ride along the ground, but also leap in the air – sometimes several metres high! Thrill-seekers have also invented the ‘sea-quad,’ an amphibious mini-catamaran that glides across water and sand, notably on the vast beaches of Normandy and the northern French coast.
The fun of team games
French seaside resorts display imagination when it comes to beach games with balls, nets, or rackets. Popular team games have left the gym in order to strut their stuff in sun and sand, becoming a fun and friendly feature of French resort activity.
Volleyball pioneered the transition of ball games to the beach. Yet this most common of casual beach games has now become a glamorous and highly codified competition sport, even reaching Olympic Game status!
A less serious version of European football which is now highly popular on French beaches.
A ‘touch’ version of the rough 15-a-side sport. Tackles are replaced by a simple touch, and the teams of 6 are often mixed in gender. This beach version is becoming popular on the Aquitaine Coast, and is a real show to watch.
The indoor sport of handball gets some sea air by moving to the beach. The ball is no longer dribbled on the ground, only passed in the air.
Beach Ultimate Frisbee®
People have long had fun playing with a flying disc (or Frisbee®) on the beach in pairs. But the Ultimate version is a team game (7 players on each side) in which the disc must be passed among players in order to cross a rugby-type end zone.