Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Emergence of Surfing Resorts on the Aquitaine Littoral

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Emergence of Surfing Resorts on the Aquitaine Littoral

Article excerpt

The recent development of sliding and gliding sports along the Aquitaine littoral, particularly the advent of surfing and surf-related sports, has brought with it a marked change in user attitudes. The lifeways of seaside resorts have been altered by new sports activities, new images, and new resorts that contrast with and complement those already in existence. A study of the specialization of sites, and of their organization and architecture, offers a prime opportunity to become acquainted with current trends and to review foreseeable tendencies.

The concept of the station balneaire, now better than a century old and used to evoke French Atlantic coastal towns that have grown in relation to bains de mer (sea bathing and swimming), applies only in part to the present-day situation. As for the words station (resort) and port de plaisance (sailing or yachting resort), they too are unsuited to the Aquitaine coast, where water sports are restricted by the rigorous natural elements and conditions. With this in mind, the concept of "surfing resort" seems especially well adapted to the new, increasingly popular recreational activities.

These activities, most of which were imported and have spread across France over the past thirty years, have gained ground on the more traditional sports that are standardized by times and territories (Figure x). Characterizing them are a new relationship to the body and to nature, a novel rapport with others, and the remarkable prestige these sports and pastimes are acquiring. Encouraged by the local authorities, the promoters of sports equipment, and the formidable tourism infrastructure, surfing and its derivatives are playing a large part in transforming the lifeways and realities of the ocean resorts.


The sense of the sea has never ceased to evolve since the eighteenth century, when, after a long period of revulsion, a collective human yearning for dawdling on the shore came to the fore [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. At that time the seashore was associated with dreams in which the onlooker, confronted with the elements, contemplated seascapes from a fresh viewpoint. The urban middle class deserted balneology in favor of sea bathing and swimming resorts, at first health conscious but later with play in mind (Urbain 1995).

Sea gazing was promptly followed by the first deliberate dips in the ocean and by beach games, while on the stretches of smooth water or in sheltered bays the water sports attracted more and more aficionados. Water sports, initially for club members only, became democratized, and numerous improved sliding and gliding activities emerged (Augustin 1986).

These sports are part of a whole suite of activities that have diffused widely throughout France since the 1970s and that are commonly known as "Californian sports" (Pociello 1981): Not only are coastal surfing and wind surfing involved, but so also are skate boarding, hang gliding, delta planing (or parasailing), and all their derivatives. These sports call on waves, winds, and other extracorporal energies drawn from the natural elements and requiring a new mode of control based on the treatment of relevant data and the piloting of machines absent any independent steering aid. They imply a changed relationship between body and nature that enhances spontaneity, imagination, and a need to be free.


Any diversification of sports sites goes hand in hand with changes, and traditional practices have become more or less obsolete in all social circles. The economic agents, notably those responsible for amenities, sports equipment, and clothing, accentuate this obsolescence and, by means of advertising, incite heightened demand and artificially fashion tastes and likings. We are witnessing a move to a sort of hedonistic consumption linked to free, informal, and wild practices. To the gliding and sliding enthusiasts, and more particularly to those who have a real proficiency, the term sport libre (footloose sports) takes on multiple connotations (Bessy and Lacroix 1994). …

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