Ten minutes and we would be in San Sebastian. The ambience had slowly given way from cityscape to rolling green hills dotted with evergreens. San Sebastian held the only opportunity for surfing in my 7 weeks abroad so it seemed appropriate that the landscape would possess a certain familiarity to me. That which I knew back home in Northern California was all present here, down to the similarity of the surf report; a shitty, but possibly fun day at Dillon Beach: 3 to 4 feet, 9 second swell period, cross shore wind, cold water even. But the less-than-stellar conditions would not keep me out of the water. Immediately after Grace and I checked into our hostel, I practically ran to the ocean to check out the status. Even the amount of people out there felt homey: crowds due to the beginner waves, but I was stoked nonetheless.
The next day, on Friday, I waited outside one of the surf shops that was supposed to open at 9am. A sleepy-looking, young man finally showed up around 9:30.
He apologized for being late, and said he had slept in. He had not thought there would be any customers until later due to the rain. I laughed to myself because even the drizzle that had started that morning screamed “COME BACK AND SURF IN CALIFORNIA!”
Sitting in the crowded waves, looking at the overcast greenery that I knew and loved and missed tugged at my heart a bit. It reminded me of the surfers I left back home. I was regretful my crew would not be able to experience California’s eerie duplicate, yet I was jealous of them too, but I didn’t know of what or for why. I just knew the place gave me a simultaneous feeling of joy as well as longing.
On Saturday, Grace and I decided on a spontaneous day trip to Biarritz, France. We went here because the rain had been relentless in San Sebastian and we wanted at least one sun-shiny beach day before Grace left. Biarritz looked promising, and indeed it was. Although I was not prepared for the size of these waves. Not barreling, but they were powerful and fear-inspiring. Would I even make the paddle out?
I rented my wetsuit (the first time I ever wore a half suit) and decided to invest the extra five euros to upgrade from a softboard to a 7’6 hardboard -the same size as my board back home. I carefully followed the instructions of a couple locals who told me about where to paddle out, watch out for the surf classes, etc, and I finally took the plunge.
And it was a plunge. Almost immediately, I was submerged by the oncoming throes of the waves. After about five minutes, I thought about how would I get to the lineup. I looked up for a second, and I was already there, panting, ribcage shot from surfing for six hours the day before, but there. I sat in the lineup for probably an hour, too terrified to actually attempt any of the monsters, but thought how I could only say I had surfed in Spain and France if I actually caught waves there. Spain had been checked off the list, but France was still teasing me (like I would later find out it would often do), playing hard to get.
Usually when I catch waves, I lose all inhibition and want to go back for more, even if I had been terrified a second ago. However, in Biarritz, when I finally caught my wave, I paddled straight to shore. It was exhilerating, but in a way that left my feet tingling from the power that had just been felt underneath and I didn’t know if they could handle another wave. I’d be back in a couple years and tear this place apart hopefully, but today was not that day.
I am, however, able to say now that I have successfully surfed in Spain and France, within 24 hours of each other. And I think, maybe, that this is one of the coolest things I’ve done.