After watching a celebratory fundraising cycle video at a charity do, Will Jessup and I insisted on going a step further and cycling from Newquay to Santander, surfing along the way. I hadn’t actually ridden a road bike before and had a couple of months to get sorted – here’s how it went:
We started the trip by hatching plans and planning routes on the Plymouth to Roscoff ferry with the support vehicle team headed by Will’s father, known to old school Newquay folk as Crazy Nick. A loose arrangement to meet at Carnac in two days time was made and we hit the road. Despite picking up the wrong map, in which France was the size of a piece of A4 paper, the first day was a cruise. Brittany is like Cornwall but less hilly, so we put in a good effort til around 6pm, then befriended a friendly landlord and spent our first night on the road in a pub garden.
Day 2 and we arrived into Carnac earlier than expected, yet there was no sign of the support vehicle or our surfboards. It turns out that he decided to go to Les Sables, two days cycle away. The next two days we cycled in a very unorthodox and unadvisable way.After coffee in Vannes, the most beautiful old cobbled French town I’ve ever seen, we had some kilometres to crush so we decided to stick to the main roads and do three stints of 40km per day. It was actually quite exciting caning it on a bicycle on a French motorway and very good for concentration and the mind, but not exactly in the spirit of a cycle tour.
We arrived into Les Sables, yet there was still no sign of surf and no trace of the support vehicle as they’d decided to go to San Sebastian. Patience was wearing thin so we made a firm plan to meet in Mimizan in two days time.
The following days opened our eyes to how many beautiful cities-on-the-sea there are in this part of France. La Rochelle is massive and breathtaking at sunset (though no surf), while Rochefort and Royan are also vibrant and lively and reminiscent of Brighton. The latter was our entrance into what I would called South West France and where we met our third amigo, a chain smoking unfazed by anything hero called George who had ridden from Holland on a £70 bike, with a £20 pannier stacked as high as himself. He was heading for Malaga via Lisbon (check that on the map).
Finally the support vehicle provided much needed support and our boards and we got barreled at a completely empty Mimizan Plage for two days. Definitely a spot to remember.
There are cycle lanes all through this part of France and they are painfully long and boring; so I’ll keep it short: we rolled into Hossegor, got our boards off Harry and Vince Timson (cheers fellas). Will got barreled on a 9ft foamie, croissants were eaten, Kronebourg stubbies were drunk, we slept on the beach in Biarritz, encountered beautiful sunsets and much arrogant service.
Yet San Sebastian is where things really stepped up a level. After smashing it through France and assuming Santander was around the corner, we felt it was time to celebrate and taste the local delicacies.
Several hours of gluttony in the bars made the natural progression to a nightclub of course where we randomly partied with that blonde hipster surfer who always wears the weird glasses until a good 2.00am.
This is when I lost George and Will also disappeared into the night, so I sat by mine and Will’s bikes outside the club, keeping myself awake by reading the only book in my artillery, the Yoga Sutras of Pantalaji. For seven hours!
Obviously it was a long night but I was feeling mega spiritual when George came stumbling down the road, bike-less as the police had seized it. It was 9.00am, George was alright and our spirits were rising. We decided to wait at the bar where we had put in a solid shift the night before and after a couple of breakfast beers, Will must have had the same thought and stumbled down the road in his lycra all–in-one, having woken up in a town one hour away. He had got on a train, fallen asleep, then was kicked off at the last stop. Classic Jessup.
In San Sebastian we befriended a friendly local who was also rather pissed, at what in normal circumstances would be a strange time of day. In our vulnerable states we became like daytime booze brothers, the four musketeers. The fourth musketeer told us he owned a hotel just around the corner, which was a game changer. Now normal minds would find it skeptical for a legit hotelier to be getting Newquay drunk on a Wednesday afternoon with some random cyclists, but we were well up for it.
Carlos was mega stoked with his new guests and escorted us literally around the corner to a door with no sign, just a load of doorbells. He rang a bell, the door was opened and our bikes were whisked up six flights of stairs to our room.
It turned out it was his or his mate’s flat and without any words being said our bikes were held hostage until we paid €300. We were actually given beds (well a sofa, a chair and a mattress on the floor of the living room), as well as a crate of beers and a load of weed. It was all well weird and got weirder as we actually spent this night there getting baked with the guys before finally falling asleep, only to wake up and find two randoms who were subject to the same trick, on mattresses in the kitchen. We got the fuck out of there fast.
We had to sadly part with George here, a true third amigo, who needed to get to West Portugal (he’d bought a new bike for €50 and cycled there if you were wondering).
It was an emotional morning and leaving San Sebastian straight into a massive mountain, that took about an hour to cycle up and overlooks the city was even more emotional. The slight comedown and fragile state we were in, was good as our endorphins came back with a vengeance and we were now high on life.
This rollercoaster of vibes continued as we cycled over countless mountains (Picas De Europa) along the Camino De Santiago, sharing the stoke with dozens of walkers, watching empty waves peel into nameless bays, camping in settings that felt like Jurassic Park and drinking coffee in beautiful towns that I would never consider visiting and now can’t wait to return. It was an experience that can’t be put into words.
We didn’t actually have a map of Spain, just the dregs in the corner of our useless France map and for some reason didn’t buy one. Life was good, it was the best experience I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t change a thing – even getting stitched up for €300. If you’re up for this sort of thing or anything that puts you out of your comfort zone and visiting random places and meeting random, eclectic people along the way, just go for it. It’s not about the location it’s all about the journey.
If you’re actually up for a cycle and surf tour from Bordeaux to Bilbao, I totally know the ropes and I will be running a trip in September, which promises no debauchery. Check www.errantsurf.com for details – and apologies for the shameless sales pitch.
A huge thanks goes to Lata’s Surf House (latassurf.com) for the good vibes, KOA Surf House (koaescueladesurf.com) for the hospitality and Brittany Ferries for getting us there safely.