Star Surf Camps Review – Carcans
We spent a week of our summer back in 2013 over in France with Star Surf Camps at Carcans, where we learnt to surf and took some time to chill out. We always wondered why so many people could be so overtly passionate about surfing, so we thought we best give it a go. Their camp at Carcans is a short hop, skip and 1 hour drive from Bordeaux, set in an idyllic protected forest and a stone’s throw from the beach (you need a good arm). Star Surf Camps have a number of locations, but we picked Carcans in order to get some quality relaxing beach time and really work on our surfing.
The surf on the south-west coast of France is perfect for beginners, although saying that, the waves are entirely dependent upon the weather and last time we checked you can’t guarantee that! Typically though, throughout the summer season the waves will be about right for you and a soft board, but you keep an eye on it all here. The area itself is outstandingly beautiful, with the pine forest providing welcome shade and the sandy beach for everything else. The coastal town itself is Spartan, with limited places to eat and drink, 1 convenience store and numerous surfing/beach stores. This is only the backdrop, so if you crave activity and nightlife you’re only about 10km from Lacanau, where they host their annual surf competition, have far more places to eat, drink and be merry – alternatively, the Moliets camp is more of a party place!
Travelling to Carcans isn’t as easy it might sound though. If you are heading from the UK, your best bet is to fly to Bordeaux and hop on the arranged transport all the way there. If, however, you want to do it you own way, the public transportation can be fun, if unpredictable, and certainly indirect. Or, if you are adventurous, take your car and make a real road trip of it down the coast line of France. When we do it next time, that is the way we’ll be going.
The Campsite, Food & Drink
Star Surf Camp nestles in its own quadrant within a much larger campsite in Carcans. The camp itself is a little village of pre-erected tents for singles or couples as well as the slightly more solid structures for the surf gear, kitchen, yoga tent and chill-out tent. The tents come with a pod for you and your gear, as well as an inflatable mattress (thankfully). Benches and tables are set out in the middle of all the tents, where meals are eaten communally and the required talks and notifications are delivered. There are hammocks dotted all over the place, and a handful of power access points for recharging things that you probably don’t need to be using anyway. For a temporary campsite, it had a solid feel to it. If camping isn’t your thing, this may be a stretch for you, but if you’re going surfing and you’re laid back this is practically perfect. There are a few solar powered lights (which barely worked) and some hanging lanterns that didn’t last the week, so save for the moon, it was pretty tough navigation at night – the cracking sound of crushing pinecones was a common sound in the early hours.
An optional extra offered by Star Surf Camps was their meal package, but really this was an essential. The meals provided included breakfast and dinner, with lunch on offer should you choose to pack yourself some fruit and a baguette for down at the beach. The food was certainly good quality given the location and the kitchen on offer, so kudos to the chef. The breakfast was of the European variety: baguettes, spreads, meats, cheeses and cereals. Dinners were the healthy kind, ranging from pasta and salmon one night, to chilli the next (veggie options available). In recognition of the chef’s hard work, however, you have to sort your own dinner out twice in the week – either going as a part of the large, organised group or being more adventurous. Its not expensive to eat in Carcans or in the nearby places, but its also an extra expense you will face. When we booked this was unadvertised, but it has since been updated fortunately.
Surf lessons come as a part of the package, with 10 hours included: 8 hours down on the beach, 2 hours ‘surf theory’. In groups of around 8, you head up and over a sand dune and down to the beach with an instructor and assistant. After a warm up, its about getting wet and learning the basics: about your board, positioning, balance, how to stand, etc. The instructors are all well versed and enthusiastic, all with more experience being on a board than off one who spend the whole day with different groups, easily spending up to 8 hours instructing. Although taking part in group lessons, we were all watched by the instructors and given some 1:1 time to pick up pointers to help us improve individually. And you know what, it definitely helps! Within an hour we were up standing and riding the waves into shore. If you want to progress even faster you can take the option extra of 5 more hours’ tuition throughout the week. One thing that goes unsaid, probably through assumption, is that you need a good level of fitness and upper body strength before you can surf. If you can’t do a press up, you can’t pop up! So if you’re thinking of going, make sure you check out a fitness plan first. So if you’re booking those extra hours, be prepared for some fatigue. Going over the dune carrying a 10ft foam surf board may be the greater challenge though.
How did we fare? Well, at first being somewhat hesitant, we managed to get up and ride a wave in to shore easily within an hour or so of the first lesson. From there on it, it was all about getting technique working for us, practise and adrenaline. When you progress far enough, you will be taken out beyond the white wash to catch green, unbroken waves, that you can ride across and really maximise the experience. Swimming out, sitting on your board and waiting for the right wave is all part of the anticipation, it builds up and then when you finally catch that right, sweet wave its a kind of euphoria mixed with a sense of solo achievement. Its hard to explain, so all we can do is suggest you head out there and experience it for yourself. Don’t worry if you are nervous or doubt yourself, everyone there will be supportive the whole way.
The 12 or so staff at Star Surf Camps Carcans were all energetic, young and friendly. Although a bit of a motley crew, they clearly all had a passion for surfing – some who were hired simply because they came and didn’t want to leave – a real testament to the experience. The busiest week of the season saw some 50+ guests, with a mixture of nationalities including British, German, Belgian, Czech, Swiss, Taiwanese, etc. all of whom were excited to surf, socialise and were all a rather attractive bunch (including us). Whilst there are activities arranged for everyone to get to know each other, these are sparse with the focus being on relaxation and yoga. Speaking of yoga, we did give it a go since it is not something we have ever tried before. It can clearly benefit your surfing, improving your ability to focus and balance, and for those more spiritual out there, it could also help you on that front too. We would definitely recommend it and may even pick it up again sometime (no guarantees).
Ultimately, Star Surf Camps in Carcans is a great place to get introduced to surfing. The surfing experience felt really first rate and the quality of food; the friendliness of all involved; and the superb overall experience cannot be doubted. It’s a campsite, so there are shared facilities with other surf camps and general campers, there are noise restrictions past 11 and you’ve got to wash up your own cutlery, but that should be expected. Ever wonder why some people can be so passionate about surfing? We used to, now we know why and we are just itching to get back out there. We recommend you hit a Star Surf Camp and find out for yourself. Naturally, surf camps operate in seasonal cycles, so if France isn’t up and running, there could be their site in Bali, or the ever present base in Fuertaventura. Saying that, these guys aren’t the only ones, as the Surf Camp industry is buzzing with big name brands and all manner of offerings and locations, so do you think you have something worth sharing with us? Let us know!