Surprising Mix of Localism and Joy on France's Mascaret Tidal Bore

Matt Rode

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Updated 32d ago

“No cameras.” I’ve received that admonishment a handful of times in the past, typically in relation to well-protected, isolated, world-class waves that are only known by a handful of people willing to enforce an aggressive, no-photo policy to keep them that way.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, I’d never been warned to leave my GoPro at home while driving 150kms inland to surf a well-known, widely publicised, waist-high straighthander breaking in the middle of a river. But that happened two days ago, as I raced past flashing speed cameras in an attempt to gain crucial minutes on my rental car’s GPS reading.

Forecast: France

Well publicised? You betcha.

I was scheduled to arrive at the banks of la Garonne at 6:56 p.m., approximately four minutes before the French bore tide known as the Mascaret would be passing through. Considering I still needed to pull on a wetsuit, unrack a board, and paddle nearly a kilometre into position once I got there, I didn’t have time to worry about the grumpy locals who would surely be regulating if I showed up with a camera or a crew. I had to focus on making up some time. Arriving late had its benefits, as I didn’t have time to get vibed by the heavies waiting in the middle of the river for “their” wave to arrive

Arriving late had its benefits, as I didn’t have time to get vibed by the heavies waiting in the middle of the river for “their” wave to arrive. I was still paddling when I saw it coming around a corner, half a dozen surfers on longboards and SUPs poised motionless on the face, survival stancing their way down the middle of the river on a five-minute-long straighthander. I quickly spun around in the middle of the pack, paddled twice, and leisurely dropped into the Mascaret—directly between the two gnarliest locals at the spot (as I would later be told).

The middle-aged “heavies” immediately started asserting their dominance, angling toward me in an exaggerated attempt to rip and intimidate, driving their Chinese popouts across the shapeless face so that their noses crossed the deck of my board, then masterfully manoeuvring away at the last second, lest their precious Tufflite skins become dinged.

They were clearly well-practiced in the art of localism, and I supposed I should have been frightened into submission by their aggressive grunts and half-turns. Sadly, I wasn't and kind of forgot to be scared. I imagine that didn’t help the matter at all.

Fortunately, the locals had parked on the opposite side of the river, so when the wave finally backed off and we made our way to our respective banks, I was able to avoid what would surely have been the most comical altercation of my life. As I rinsed off in an old, stone laundry basin with the new French friend I’d met for the session, we continued laughing at the ridiculous fact that there are actually people in the world who are territorial about waves like this.

Yesterday, the Mascaret broke again—and since the coast of France is currently plagued by stormy, onshore conditions, we decided we’d might as well surf it. This time, we made our way to the harbor in Saint Pardon, a picturesque town set on the banks of la Dordogne.

The same bore tide runs up la Dordogne before pouring into la Garonne, so technically we were there to surf the same wave as a few days back, but the vibe could not have been more different. Only 30 people or so were gathered, which isn’t a lot for this particular spot, where big days will see upwards of 80 in the water, with hundreds more watching from shore. But even so, the cheerful sounds of laughter and conversation echoed through the narrow streets as we toted boards, kayaks, canoes, and foils down to the boat ramp.

Half an hour later, as the wave crumbled around the corner of the river, a cheer went up and we all turned to catch it together. As one of my new French friends had quipped in the parking lot, the Mascaret is probably the most perfectly shaped party wave in the world—a user-friendly, 100-metre-wide, 10-minute-long straighthander that literally begs for huge crowds of people to ride it together.

We stood, we sat, we knee-boarded and rode on our bellies. Farther out on the shoulder, a foil surfer was towed in by a small motor boat. And even further up the river, all of the kayakers and canoe paddlers sat in a group, chatting amiably as they waited to catch and ride the wave together.

The Mascaret was smaller than expected yesterday—likely due to the fact that the tides are diminishing. It didn’t push as far as we’d hoped, and we ended up having to paddle part of the way back to the boat launch. No one seemed to mind, of course, since we just joked and laughed and shared stories the entire way back.

And after everyone had showered the mud off of our feet, we slowly wandered back to our cars, to load our boards, hug our goodbyes, and make plans for the next session on the bore tide, which is expected in approximately 12 days. There are 40 jovial, friendly, welcoming surfers of all shapes and sizes who recognise that the only serious thing about a wave like the Mascaret is how seriously great it is to drive an hour and a half to bob around in the water for five minutes and be silly with your friends

The moral of this story isn’t very complicated. No matter where you go in the world, and no matter what kind of waves you might ride, there are always a couple of donkeys who think that surf sessions are made better through hostility and aggression. This is not the case, of course, but these people typically aren’t clever enough to figure that out, so they just keep on being dickheads and wondering why they don’t ever feel happy.

Fortunately, for every grumpy chump in the lineup (or river, as it were) there are 40 jovial, friendly, welcoming surfers of all shapes and sizes who recognise that the only serious thing about a wave like the Mascaret is how seriously great it is to drive an hour and a half to bob around in the water for five minutes and be silly with your friends. And that is exactly why we do pointless things like going surfing.

It’s also why everyone should ride a bore tide at least once in their life. So next time you are in Alaska, or the Amazon, or Sumatra, or Malaysia, or Bristol, or India, or better yet France, make a point of doing something silly, just for the novelty of it. And if you need directions to get there, feel free to drop me a DM. I know a couple of guys who could really use a bunch of new friends.

Just make sure you leave your camera at home.