From 16 to 21 June 2015, we were in France for a windsurfing holiday. We were in Leucate and Gruissan, in the Languedoc-Roussillon department, places which offer countless spots for windsurfing. The weather forecasts, that led us there, were fully confirmed, and we had 4 consecutive days of mistral between 30 to 40 knots, 24 hours a day. It was like being at Disneyland .... And to let us not miss anything, we explored also the spot of San Pere Pescador in Spain, which is only 90 km from Leucate.
Windsurf holiday: Leucate and Gruissan (France)
The area of Gruissan and Leucate is fascinating. A myriad of coastal ponds (size really considerable - a few kms) extends immediately inland from the coast. You can windsurf almost everywhere, except for some protected areas, or the ones reserved for mussel farms, or hard to reach.
We tried the spot of Le Goulet nell'Etang de Leucate, and that of the Port La Nautique in the Etang de Bages (near Narbonne). Then we found the spot of Gruissan plage (the place of the mythical Defi Wind), at sea, and it was love at first sight!
Wednesday morning (June 17th), we go in search of the first spot to try. We take advantage of the helpful map published by Darkzi on google map. Driving along the D83, on the overpass near Port Leucate, we realize we were in a spectacular place. From this point of view, high twenty meters over the ponds and the sea, a breathtaking, unreal, landscape appears. On the left (in the direction from Barcares to Leucate), the coastal lakes ruffled by the strong wind of mistral, with all possible shades of green, and with some islands and peninsulas of white sand, covered with low coastal vegetation, closing some bays. On the right, the village of Port Lecuate, modern, but very nice, with houses painted all uniformly with warm and pastel colors, and surrounded by some docks mooring for pleasure boats (many sailing boat, of course). In short, soon great excitement.
We made a first visit to the spot of Leucate - La Franqui (at sea), easy to reach by car and with goos for parking near the shore. Here, you have a beautiful beach, very broad, as usual in this region. Here, however, there was nobody windsurfing in the water. We measured 37 knots on wind gusts, and the sand, when hitting arms and legs, hurt you.... The wind was side-off, and the conditions there seemed to be too much insidious, although downwind there is a rocky promontory that can collect surfers with problems (only if not too much offshore). We preferred to prioritize prudence. We asked suggestings to guys of the kitesurfing store on the spot, who wisely directed us to Le Goulet, at the pond of Leucate. So we headed there.
On the spot there is the Wesh Center Crew, and there were other surfers. The spot is safe, as well as other spots in the ponds (water at chest, and only in some places you do not touch the bottom with your feet). Here, the conditions that met, were immediately tough. I rigged the Ezzy Tiger 4.2 (the smaller sail I have), and the Tabou 3S 86 liters. Despite sailing and small board, I didn't manage to remain in full control, mainly for the overpowered sail, since there were almost 40 knots on frequent gusts. Absurd speed, and often board fully out of the water surface. The video of the session at the spot (see below) shows the same behavior of the board for other surfers.
In the afternoon of the same day, on the advice of Mathieu, French friend from Lyon, I moved to the spot of Port La Nautique, in the inland lake of Bages, where the wind was expected (and thus actually proved to be) of some knots (but only some knots!) less strong. To reach the spot, we passed through the village of Bages, very nice, built on a cliff by the lake coast.
The spot of Port La Nautique is very comfortable, and very popular: dirt parking lot, beside the pond beach where you enter into water, and the possibility of assembling your rig and board a few steps from the beach. In water, the conditions proved ideal, and the session was really fun. I went out again with the 4.2 (wind at 30 - 35 knots - I could take only one sail in this holiday ....). I preferred to use the RRD FSW 110 liters board, much more stable and controllable, but above all more tolerant of my mistakes and able to allow me to try more easily especially the power jibe. On this occasion, I tried the freestyle fin of 21 cm, lent me by Marco, a friend from Garda lake.
Very pleasant views around. The area near shore was reached by a slightly less strong wind, and here the water was particularly flat. Seeing the locals (I saw people really good at the spot - sure! - they practice in such fantastic spots!) jibing there, I set myself to try the power jibe in that area, too. And I've started to understand the essential ..... You just don't have to start the jibe closing sailing into the turn, but at some point it is crucial to reopen and to bring the sailing center outside of the curve and the weight of the body inside (whether or not changing the position of the feet). So I went up significantly near to close the maneuver, except for some attempts, in which, as mentioned by my son, I "bounced on the water at full speed". Riding towards the center of the lake was real adrenaline, since you could plan at full speed, with the possibility to jump on some little waves. Offshore, generally, I tried the fast tack, with mixed success (at these speeds you have to be very very fast). But even on this maneuver I'm gradually progressing. The pleasant surprise was that, sometimes, in the middle of the lake, after falling, I could touch the lake bottom with my feet. That increases the session duration, as it allows, sometimes, to rest.
A few words about the water quality of lakes, on which I have heard many different opinions. It 's true it is not the water of the Maldives. I has a "milk and coffe" color, and at the bottom there are often algae, or mud. But the water is not dirty or polluted, it's just cloudy. In short, it's all nature .... Anyway, in my opinion, the perfect conditions (in terms of safety), that these ponds offer, are worth endure some unpleasant feeling.
The next day, however, we studied the possibility of surfing in the sea. And so, we discovered Gruissan Plage...... Even the area around Gruissan, if possible, is even more beautiful, with wonderful hills, ponds and canals everywhere (in some points, except for the milder temperatures, reminded me of certain areas of Ireland), vineyards and wine farms. Even the first image of Gruissan village struck me immediately, view from the road that reaches it from Narbonne: the cliff at the center of the village, on which the remains of Frederick Redbeard tower dominate, surrounded by the houses of the village.
Driving along the canal that goes from the village to the sea and allows to boats to go offshore, we reached Gruissan Plage, where in May 2015 one of the toughest editions of Defi Wind was held, with winds up to 70 knots.
At the end of the road that runs alongside the canal, where there is the Pole Nautique Gruissan, I immediately noticed that there were windsurfers beyond the channel (ie, in the beach to the west), which where riding in exceptional conditions: they planing at ten meters from the waterline, with flat water, and with a strong and constant wind. How to get to that beach? Behind it there are the salt marshes, and only a few dirt and long roads reach the beach. These roads, moreover end before reaching the shore, and there are at least 300-400 meters of beach to walk carring equipment ....
The next morning, I went back to this spot (after an unsuccessful attempt to explore at Port La Nouvelle) and I asked to people at the windsurf school on how to get to that beach. I was offered three options: swimming and crossing the canal with the equipment, beachstarting form inside the harbor in front of the school, going out from the beach to the east of the harbour and the canal, and then sailing to the west beach. I chose the first (we will provide more details in the review of the spot).
Once there, it takes little time to understand that you are in an amazing spot. 50 meters walking after the point where you cross the canal, you reach the shore. There, you have a few surfers (5 to 20 surfers in the water, at least at this time, and during the week), and you have available all the water you want. The windsurfers plan very close to the shore, in half a meter deep water, almost in silence (except for the 40 knots of wind, which are not exactly silent). Flat and shallow waters for at least fifty meters from the shoreline, emerald seas, immaculate white sand, the large beach and a few silhouettes of humans dispersed in its immensity.....
But the fun begins when you enter into the water with your own equipment. I used my 4.2 sail (of course), and the freestylewave RRD board 110 liters, with a 21 cm fin. Already while beachstarting with 40 knots, you must check well the direction of the board, starting almost close-hauled to avoid starting soon at full speed. Then, once started, you almost immediately put your feet in the straps, you begin fling over the water, and you are happy as a kid .... Just riding with this wind, in this sun, in this emerald and transparent sea under your board, and in this wonderful landscape around, is really a great pleasure. In addition you have the conditions of the spot, which let you try and try all freeride and freestyle maneuvers you want. The wind is tough (at least the one that we find), and decidedly offshore. But the spot, although not suitable for novice, is reasonably safe, because you have shallow waters for 50- 60 meters from the shore. It is popular, and the wave is almost absent (though at a hundred meters from the waterline forms a chop exploitable for some jumps, for freestyle). Thus the recovery of the sail while standing on the board is not impossible; but with 30 to 40 knots is better (less strenuous) know how to do very well the waterstart.
I also started to plan just near the shore, going well upwind at each ride, trying again and again the power jibe (and some fast tack), near the exit to the sea of the canal (there, water is flat like a mirror), or on the opposite side, towards West, that is towards the center of the long beach. So after many trials and errors, I finally closed my first power jibe, even dirty in exit, but eventually without falling! And I'll remember Gruissan plage for all my life just for this! Often when I fell, I found myself with water to the waist or chest. Indeed, looking well the sea bottom when riding, you can jibe on purpose where the sea is clearer and less deep, so that, in case of error, you can touch with you feet ont the sandy bottom, and rest.
From the canal, the beach spreads westward for several kilometers ... So, if you wish, you can ride planing endless.... The Defi Wind, in fact, starts from here and get to Leucate, with ridings between buoys of 12 miles ....
At the first session here, I found perfect conditions, with strong wind, but steady and stable as direction. Some gusts were really remarkable (4.2 wide open, and almost vibrating in going upwind to survive the gust). I soon realized that it was not the case trying the power jibe in these gusts, because I reached absurd speed, and in the case of error falls were dramatically spectacular. In one of these, I get my head out of water convinced that there is something broken: either myself, or the rig. I'm pretty sure that th mast must be broken. On the contrary the 370 RDM Ezzy mast resisted to the shot. Even I emerge miraculously unbroken..... So I restart. Only 10 minutes later, I realize that I lost something .... My sunglasses jumped off despite the safety lanyard. So after giving up to my boots (of course, we are on the sand), and gloves, I decide finally that I will never use more glasses. But I decide also that for future occasions with 4.2, I'll wear a good helmet ....!
The next day I will return to this spot, because it really got me too excited. It will be another great session, even if the wind is a bit unstable as direction and intensity, between 25 and 40 knots. During the session, I see at the spot a little group of kids of the windsurf school. They show to me that the damned power jibe can be done easily just when you are 10-12 years old.... I begin to understand why the French are strong surfers. They have great spots, and practice this sport perhaps with more seriousness from an early age, attending good schools.
My son films some video of me, unfortunately not in perfect focus.
In the afternoon, we decided to go to visit Carcassone (my son is passionate of the eponymous game), 75 km from Gruissan, which turns out wonderful.
Saturday, the last day before we leave back home, I decide to "put my nose" in Spain, where there should be a bit less wind (windfinder gives 15-20 knots max). I want to explore San Pere Pescador zone, in Costa Brava, spot much vaunted by some friends. San Pere is about 90 km from Barcares, where it is our camping site.
Crossed the border, the scenery changes a lot. The vegetation beyond the Pyrenees is burned by the heat and sun, and the landscape is therefore less green. To feel ourselves really in Spain, we turn on the radio, and we begin to hear Spanish spoken, that sounds so pleasantly amusing.
We arrive to San Pere Pescador, right at the beach of the famous camping La Balene Alegre. Not being guests of the camp, I have to reach the beach through a dirt road, along the west border of the camp). Arriving at Playa Cortal de la Devesa, I find that even here there are 30 knots! My son can not have his ride here, also because there is a wave of one meter (at least at the shore). Wind perfectly side, and never ending beach. There are already several surfers in the waters. With 4.2 it would be a fantastic session....
But I decide to give my son a chance first, since he is learning, and the previous days I have already taken a lot of satisfaction ...
Looking through the bay, and I understand that to the north, there are more chances of finding less waves, and a wind less strong perhaps.
So, we go to Girona, where a lifeguard advises us to go to Playa de la Rubina. The beach is dreamy (see photo). It seems to be in the Caribbean. The sea is flat but the wind here too, at least on the gusts, is at about 30 knots. But at least, sometimes, it gives some brief respite. My son is hesitant, but I encourage him to try. Meanwhile, we have lunch with a sandwich. He gets convinced, and say spontaneously that perhaps for him there are good conditions. So we prepare his rig (3.2 sail) and his board (190 liters). At 13:30 he gets into the water. he does tack near the shore where you have shallow waters for 40-50 meters. The wind is offshore. I wear the suit and go into the water up to my waist, for safety. The first attempts are without success, for the heavy gusts. But then, slowly, with the right advice, he begins doing his first 50-60 meters rides, and starts to gain self-confidence. He finishes to get so much fun that he doesn't get out of the water anymore. I pain a little, because I would try San Pere with those exceptional conditions. He will gest out of the water at 16.00 ....
We return to San Pere (but to Playa Can Sopa that is more convenient to reach) as quickly as possible. The wind dropped to 25 knots average here. I rig the 4.7, and get into water, but soon I understand that it is not worth continuing. However, I think that this day was fruitful, because maybe it served to trigger the spark in my son ... And my dream is planing side by side with him.
The holiday ends. The next day we leave to return to Italy. We fell in love with another beautiful spt, which proved to be perfect for our sport, and a great amusement park.
When possible, we will surely be back.
Aloha. Fabio Muriano
For thorough reviews of all the spots visited and tested, click here.
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Become a supporter, to access to reserved contents!
Are you a passionate windsurfer? Do you want to collaborate with us? Read here, then!
If you want to sponsor Waterwind and advertise with us, or place your banner inside this article, contact us.
For the slidegallery in high resolution, click here.
The best of the video we filmed during our holiday.