This summer, I spent a week learning to surf with UCPA Lacanau on the coast of France. Honestly, surfing was something I never thought I’d attempt again after a few previous failures, but all it took was some gentle arm twisting for me to concede.
I’d never heard anything about UCPA before, but it’s a fairly well-known organization throughout Europe. They are a non-profit based in France (don’t ask me what UCPA actually stands for, though–it’s all
Greek French to me) that puts on outdoor sports camps for people between the ages of 7-39. This includes summer sports like tennis, horseback riding, and surfing as well as winter sports like skiing and snowboarding.
You can choose from a variety of packages, meaning you don’t have to stick to one sport for the whole week if you don’t want to. We could have mixed and matched, spending half the week surfing and another half wakeboarding, for example, but to really start to get a grasp on any one sport we reasoned it was probably better not to split focus (and just doing one sport was slightly cheaper, so there’s that).
If you’re not familiar with Lacanau (and if you’re not French, I’ll assume you’re not), it’s a small town in the southwestern region of the country on the Atlantic coast. It’s situated roughly 1 hour west of the well-known city of Bordeaux (well-known for its wine and cognac, of course), which I was eager to explore when the camp was over. As you might imagine, Lacanau’s combination of sun, sand, surf, and wine suited me juuuust fine.
In fact, it reminded me very much of Spain’s Mediterranean coast in terms of climate and vegetation. Hot, but not humid, with the distinct scent of pine hanging in the air. The preferred modes of transportation in and around town were by beach cruiser or by foot.
Lodging and all meals are included in the price of a week with UCPA Lacanau. The accommodations reminded me of a college campus, with several buildings in a horseshoe shape and rooms that were very basic. Bathrooms were shared, and we ate meals in a large common dining hall.
They also organized events each evening for participants to hang out and get to know one another; in this way, it really did feel like summer camp, but for adults. With a bar.
The majority of participants were French, and so the non-French speakers were put into their own groups. I could tell we were missing out on a lot of the fun during the evening activities, but we joined in as much as possible. Our surfing group consisted of about 12 Swedes, two English girls, and me.
I’m 90% certain UCPA Lacanau had never seen an American at their camp before. Whereas normally when I reveal my nationality I’m met with Donald Trump jokes, this week the follow-up question always seemed to be, “How did you get here??”
I don’t blame them for wondering–I really hadn’t heard of UCPA before that summer, and it was the Swede who introduced me to it in the first place (he’d done another surf camp in Biarritz a few years back).
But anyway, on to the surfing.
The Atlantic coast of France is really one of the best places I could ever imagine for learning how to surf, and the reasons can be summed up in just six words:
No rocks. No coral. No sharks.
My sea-urchin-in-the-foot mishap in Hawaii years earlier meant I wouldn’t have been too keen on surfing anywhere near sharp things, but these soft, sandy beaches seemed downright friendly in comparison. And Jaws just happens to be one of my favorite movies for reasons I still don’t quite understand, so the peace of mind that no giant fanged fishes lurked beneath us was absolutely priceless.
The water was a bit chillier than I would have liked, but I was surprised at how quickly we got used to it each morning during our “warm up” body surfing sessions. The sun bore down ferociously as well, so our wetsuits and zinc sticks were both absolutely essential to not simultaneously freezing and burning.
We couldn’t have asked for better instructors to look after us for the week. Martin and Clement took amazing care of us and kept us enthused and entertained throughout every lesson.
Their sunny dispositions and gregarious smiles were infectious. My favorite part, though, were their words of encouragement, shouted in guttural, heavily-accented English from the shore.
“GIVE US SOME DREAM!” Martin bellowed, and it was only day one. We were still in the foam, learning to feel the momentum of the water pulling us along as we paddled into an oncoming wave. Now, he wanted us to try the impossible: standing up.
Much to Martin’s (and our) surprise, most of us DID stand up, if just for a second, on our very first day of instruction. And we hadn’t even learned the proper technique yet.
This set us up for a great week of success; each day we improved little by little, and by the end of the week, the whole group was catching big waves from beyond the break.
Naturally, we were painfully sore throughout all of this; there were times when my arms just didn’t have the strength to push me up (see Exhibit A, below), and we were often fighting strong currents just to paddle out.
I enjoyed the challenge, though, and felt especially proud of myself for overcoming a fear that now seemed rather silly. That’s the thing about comfort zones, though: we never know how flexible they really are until we push them.
Our mid-week surfing session was especially memorable. Rather than heading out for our morning lesson, we went for a sunset session instead. Much to this blogger’s delight, a photographer was in attendance at every surf session, creating memories we could take home at the end of the experience. They might not have caught our best rides of the week, but the emotions these photos invoke was well worth the small additional price.
And speaking of price, this week of surfing instruction was an amazing value. If you plan to a European vacation and are interested in an active holiday, UCPA’s camps might just be perfect for you. All the equipment you’ll need is provided for you, so you just need to show up with the right clothes for your intended sport, a good attitude, and an open mind.
For our week of surfing, we paid €650 per person, which covered 7 days/6 nights with accommodation and all meals included, and 2 1/2 hours of surfing instruction for 5 days. We paid for our own transportation to Lacanau (by local bus) and rented bicycles for the week for an additional €40. There is also a bar on-site, so you have the option of purchasing extra drinks throughout the week like coffee, beer, and wine (or you can do what we did and buy cheap wine from the local grocery store instead).
A week spent learning to surf with UCPA Lacanau was an unexpected surprise for me this summer. We really only had the plan set in stone a few weeks beforehand. We had WiFi, but limited access to it, meaning for the first time in a great while, I was “unplugged” more often than not. With everything I was trying to accomplish this summer, most notably finishing my eBook, the timing wasn’t great, I’ll admit.
But, at the end of the day, I learned a lot of important lessons from this experience, and hell, I even learned how to surf! For real this time! So I can’t really be mad about all that time I wasn’t able to work. Most things have a way of working themselves out, and this summer was no exception.
Overall, our experience with UCPA Lacanau was unforgettable. Would you ever spend a week learning to surf?
All surfing photos in this post courtesy of UCPA Lacanau. This post may contain affiliate links.