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The Story: LA MER, LE VENT ET LE CERF-VOLANT

12 Feb , 2021  

Usually, a MANERA trip is always associated to an atypical destination in a relatively cold place. Last year, the Kamchatka Peninsula was incredible! This year’s trip was supposed to be similar, but in 2020, the word ‘normal’ took on a whole new meaning…

A global pandemic and two months of quarantine later, we had to change all our plans at the last minute. With our authorization slips in our pockets, we decided to follow the wind and go meet the best local riders around France.

We started off by meeting Matt, the photographer, on a Saturday in front of the F-ONE/MANERA offices. We stood in front of Francis’ 1994 RV, which was going to be our house on wheels for the next two weeks.

It looked old on the outside, which didn’t inspire much confidence, but on the inside, the wood veneer gave it a welcoming feel.

That day, the wind was going wild, so we decided to make a first stop on a local spot where we found the Mediterranean exactly the way we like it: with strong winds, rain and waves. After a good session, the sun was back, and we decided to hit the road.

“We found the Mediterranean exactly the way we like it: with strong winds, rain and waves.”

A few moments later, we were on the way to the west coast, going where the wind blows. Yewww!
Freedom to go where the wind takes us… I have dreamed of making this kind of trip for years!

A few kilometers in, we felt the power of the RV was rather limited. Matt, who was driving the beast at the time, slammed on the brakes out of habit in front of the first speed camera. It didn’t change much as we were only driving at 80km/h prior to that… ‘’Put it back in 3rd – we can’t lose any more speed!’’.

At that moment, I looked at Matt, and we both knew that we would be spending a lot of time on the road! In theory, following the wind is exhilarating and exciting, but in reality, it’s harder than you think. The weather charts are updated every two hours and show a different forecast every time.

We decided to make a second stop on the island of Oléron. Oscar, a local rider, told us about a flat lagoon, ideal for freestyle with perfect wind orientation for the next two days. We tried to get there before dark. We constantly felt like we were racing against time in a tractor, but we were slowly getting accommodated to the hum of the Fiat J300 engine.

We obviously arrived right at nightfall, making it too late to go in the water – but the spot showed potential.

Maxime, another team rider, met us that night with his van. He had to wait for the borders to reopen to be able to go through them. Our team was almost complete. Marcela was the only one missing. She was fighting with her embassy to get authorization to take a flight from Portugal to France. It wasn’t looking good and it seemed that it may not be possible for her to join us on this trip…
Max and I were the two riders, Matt and Olivier the media team! A small team for a unique trip which looked very promising.

We spent the next two days on this lagoon to take advantage of the slightest gust of wind. It wasn’t an extraordinary spot, but it was a great beginning to the trip!

We continued our adventure north. Next stop: Noirmoutier. At 80km/h, it took us a while to get there, but we enjoyed the scenery on the drive and planned the next few days.

Once we got there, we discovered that the entire peninsula had temporarily forbidden kiteboarding. We definitely hadn’t thought that this would be a possibility. Our only option was to ride the ‘Gois’, a submerged road at high tide which becomes a world class freestyle spot at low tide!

Naturally, that day, the wind was parallel to the road rather than being perpendicular to it… Either way, as any self-respecting rider desperate to get some action, we decided to get in the water with Max.

“The entire peninsula had temporarily forbidden kiteboarding…”

On our way to the water, I saw a “Sludge” sign, which I found intriguing. I then took a step to the side to unwind my lines and sank knee-deep into gooey mud. Instantly, the sign made more sense to me.

We took off from the goo, and the light wind allowed us to do a few tacks and tricks, without riding back upwind. We ended up making our way back on foot along the road with our kites in the air. We greeted passers-by who must have been wondering why we would want to fly a kite here at this time of year.

Noirmoutier did not seem to want us there, and neither did the wind in the area. Being totally free to make our next move, we decided to continue our journey north to a new destination.

On the road, I carefully studied Google images next to weather maps to try to find spots which were pretty, ridable and had wind. Not as easy as you would think. We then decided to call other locals, because one man’s knowledge is better than 10 men’s guesses! Etienne Lhote, our Breton weatherman/local who owns a kite school in Quiberon, confirmed that conditions would be good for the next 2-3 days. I put the RV into 4th and charged forward on the highway. ‘We’re coming!’ shouted Olivier on the phone.

“I put the RV into 4th and charged forward on the highway. ‘We’re coming!”

Francis’ RV seemed to be holding up. Despite the windshield wiper occasionally trying to get away, we always managed to repair it with a little bit of tape. When we got there, the wind hadn’t made its arrival yet, so we decided to get in the water with Max for a quick surf session on the ‘Cote Sauvage’ of Quiberon. Conditions weren’t amazing, but after hours of road, nothing beats being in the water.

The next day, the wind was blowing, transforming the Quiberon bay into an ideal freestyle spot. ‘It’s finally time to go!’. I put my boots on and started doing a few tricks. Confinement hasn’t been kind to pro kitesurfers. I felt a little rusty and I was having a hard time finding my flow. Max seemed to be doing rather well, as I saw him land a few clean double handle-passes. Olivier and Matt were happy, because they’d also captured some great shots. I have to admit that we were stoked, for finally having had the opportunity to ride all day.

To celebrate the end of the day, we grabbed a beer and enjoyed the sunset together. In Brittany, you need to learn to appreciate sunsets when they come around, because they are rather rare. When you catch one though, they are incredible!

“Guys, if I don’t see you in a barrel, I won’t even get my camera out.” – Olivier –

The following day, the RV was in dire need of a good clean up, and Etienne even offered us the luxury of a shower in his school. What an incredible feeling after five to six days, to finally take a shower and feel clean.

We then continued our journey towards a new spot. This time, the swell forecasts seemed to be on point. “Crozon, we’re coming!”. Etienne decided to follow us to score this swell which promised to be relatively strong.

“With La Palue beach in our line of sight, we rushed to get in the water, already picturing ourselves inside barrels with Max.”

First problem on arrival: a two meter gate prevented us from accessing the carpark near the spot… We then found ourselves blocked on the top carpark in the middle of several other RVs.

From the top, we could see the offshore lines. Max and I looked at each other, with a tiny bit of apprehension. We both know how to surf, but when it’s that big, it gets a bit out of our comfort zone. Olivier then proceeded to add: “guys, if I don’t see you in a barrel, I won’t even get my camera out”. We walked down the road which lead to the spot, and we saw the low tide waves from up close. From the beach, they looked rather nice, but the swell was foreseen to increase heavily through the day and the next. I grabbed my surfboard and Max was waxing a Mitu 5’6, which he was going to use as a surfboard for this session.

To sum up the session: lots of duckdives, a couple waves surfed, but a few adrenaline spikes when dropping in on those bangers. We kept our fingers crossed, hoping there would be wind the next day.

When the alarm clock went off, I woke up across from my favorite Breton’s waking face, and he said: “So guys, ready to get smashed by mountains of water?’’ At the time, I was a bit nervous, but in the end, the surf session wasn’t too bad. I did get caved a few times, but it was pure bliss!

Around 10am, the wind was slowly picking up. We started getting the kitesurfing equipment ready. It seemed that it would be our only opportunity to get kite shots in waves on this trip. I took the 13m Breeze and Etienne went on the 12m Bandit. The wind was between twelve and thirteen knots, and with strong currents, the session was looking complex! I asked Etienne before leaving: “Do you think I should use a leash?” He gazed at me with a surprised look and said: “If you don’t want to drown, I’d say it’s better, yes”. Ok… In that case, I’ll grab a leash.

La Palue beach is quite big, especially at low tide. We walked upwind as much as possible to take advantage of the slightest wave on the way down.

I was struggling to surf well. Etienne was killing it, and he was riding backside. You can instantly see how experienced he is, and we were stoked he had come along with us. He linked back-to-back rollers despite the fact that his kite was barely flying, it was impressive! I ended up surfing the reforms closer to shore, and went back on foot after having surfed three to four waves. It gave me the opportunity to appreciate the view of the landscape and the cliffs, which are truly beautiful in Crozon.

“France is beautiful! We tend to forget it sometimes… and it will have taken a pandemic for me to go and discover it!”

Before leaving for the next destination, I went in the water at sunrise with a surf foil in the Goulien bay. The swell was rolling gently, which is ideal for the foil. After a drop in, I rode the waves and passed through a group of surfers and standup paddlers who seemed intrigued by this strange new surf tool.

No shower and a croissant later, we were on the road again, heading to Brest, where Amaury – a local shop manager – was waiting for us to show us the best spots in the area.

Navigating through a city with an RV was not simple, but the advantage is that it’s so big and wide that everyone made room for us to pass. Amaury had mapped out our next spot, and shown us where we needed to get into the water. We were headed to Plouguerneau, crossing our fingers that we’d get some sun, as it brings the true colors out of the incredible Breton turquoise water.

The scattered rocks create ideal areas for freestyle. I was feeling good about this place, which was different from Crozon, but just as nice.

The sun came out and thermal winds were picking up, so we quickly inflated our 13m with Maxime and Lazare, a local freestyler and member of our team who had joined us. The current was strong, but we managed to get to the area behind the rocks, and we started linking tricks in turquoise blue water and glorious sunny weather which made it feel like a tropical destination. The only difference was that we were wearing 4/3mm wetsuits.

I saw Max sending big tricks and I was focused on making the most of every tack, and not wasting the drone and camera batteries with bails. The wind gently dropped over the next 2 hours, until there was none left at all.

A well-deserved meal was waiting for us at the restaurant in front of our riding spot. We tried all the Breton crepes of the area to see which city made the best ones. Crozon set the bar very high, I have to say!

Freestyle, waves, foil, surf clips… We were beginning to have the footage we needed to make a good video. The photos were looking nice too. We still felt like we were missing a little something, something that would make the video epic, that would showcase some of the splendor that France really has to offer.

Next direction: the Mont Saint Michel. This one needed a bit of preparation. We asked our friends what the best way to ride there was, what the ideal wind conditions would be, what the right tides are… The opinions were very different, so in the end, we decided to go check it out for ourselves.

High tide was forecast at 9 pm, and it was possible to ride until at least 10 pm at that time of year. Considering the conditions, our fingers were crossed for thermals to rise at the end of the afternoon, so that we would be able to ride around it.

“We still felt like we were missing a little something, something that would make the video epic.”

I sat down in the shade under a tree while waiting for the wind to pick up and the tide to rise. On my phone, I watched the crazy process of how this place came to be, and I was thinking to myself that for once, luck would be on our side. We waited, under our little tree, facing the area where we would be able to get ready and walk to the water. Max also had faith. With a foil and a 15m kite, you only need seven to eight knots to be at full speed.

At around 6:30pm, we decided to put our wetsuits on. A light breeze was rising and filled us with hope for this session. Max and I brought our 15m Halo’s out and headed to the water on foot. The path was sludgy and muddy, and by the time we got close to the water, we were boiling in our wetsuits.

When we got there, there was a small problem: the current was agitated, and the color of the water didn’t allow us to measure the depth with our foils. Great… I looked at Max and I thought to myself that it wasn’t looking good. We decided to put our kites on the edge of the water and wait for the tide to rise again. We sat in the sludge, contemplating this outrageously beautiful castle.

At around 7:30 pm, the water was high enough. I made a first attempt to set off, but the current was too strong, I was getting pulled towards the edge, and somehow managed to keep my kite in the air. The wind must have been oscillating between five and six knots, Max pointed out a sort of riptide which was building up on the side, where the current was swirling inwards. I tried again, my kite barely holding up in the air, I took off, pumped a few times, and I was gone. I could not believe it!

I turned around and Max followed right behind me. We did it, we were kitesurfing in front of the Mont Saint Michel. The drones were flying over our heads. What a magical moment. I could barely feel any wind on my face, and the current was in the right direction. The stress of falling was gradually leaving my mind, and I really started enjoying the moment.

We tacked together with Max in front, hoping that Matt and Olivier would not miss anything that was happening.

The sun was going down and turned into a ball of fire, reflecting on the different tones of orange from the Mont’s stained-glass windows. A few people inside were waving at us. I suppose it’s not every evening that two kitesurfers pass by at sunset.

We couldn’t help but release little cries of joy with Max. A moment like that will be forever engraved in our memories. The sun was finally set, letting pink and turquoise hues appear in the sky. We decided to head back in, and with high tide, we had fun in the channels that we had taken on foot on the way out.

I couldn’t stop smiling, thinking back to what had just happened. What a day… It’s also the reason we kitesurf, to experience such incredible moments!

Our trip on the French coast was coming to an end. We made one last stop in St Malo to enjoy a natural swimming pool and roam around the city. The way back was going to be long at 80km/h, but with a strong feeling that this trip was a success. Everything was easier and less stressful.

We decided to stop in Biscarosse to cut the drive in two and get into the water to surf.

This confinement has shaken us up and changed our habits. In the past, we thought paradise could only be found far away. This year, we found it at home.

At a time when the entire world is confined, when world debt is higher than ever, when scientists are working day and night to find a vaccine against this virus, there we were, four humans in an RV going where the wind blows and taking advantage of all France has to offer.

Voltaire said: “I have decided to be happy because it’s good for my health.”

” What if happiness was the key to it all? What if living at 200% was the cure for this virus? Either way, this is how we have decided to go about it at MANERA.

Olivier Sautet

DATE: June 2021

DIRECTOR: Olivier Sautet

CAMERAMAN: Olivier Sautet – Robin Christol

PHOTOGRAPHER: Matt Georges