While surfing had been practiced in France since the war, it was only in the 1960s that the country experienced a true surf revolution. July 6, 1964 marked a new landing: the American Surfing Association swooped in on Biarritz for the summer. The surfboards of these young Californians changed the face of the city known today as the European capital of surfing.
Hungry for new experiences, independence, and freedom, French youth fell under the spell of this sport and its values. The Americans brought with them new methods of surfing—lighter surfboards made it possible to perform unheard-of maneuvers and to rule the waves. They also introduced a new lifestyle that involved risk-taking, communing with nature, and the cult of the body and the mind. This way of living encouraged the enjoyment of every moment and freedom from social constraints—especially in view of attempts to ban the sport, which was seen to have a dangerous influence on youth. A refreshing spirit of freedom swept through the Basque Coast on the eve of 1968, foreshadowing the mindset of a whole generation.
René Bégué was at the forefront of this movement. Like his friends, he dreamed of acquiring the surfboard of the Australian surfer Morrie Marcobello, but it had just been sold. With 1,400 francs in his pocket, which he had squirreled away over the course of summer 1966, he bought instead Marcobello’s camera. His passion for surfing became inseparable from his passion for photography. “What a thrill it was to be discovering surfing in the act of making!,” recalls René Bégué. Armed with his 300 mm lens, he would capture stunts performed by his friends. In the water and on the beach, in black and white and in color, he immortalized the young Poseidons, always eager to line up for the camera, proudly wielding their surfboards.
Their excitement and the effervescence, generated by the exhilarating sport introduced to the Basque country from abroad, are palpable in René Bégué’s images. More than a photographer of the surfing culture, René Bégué was a witness to an era which he documented moment by moment: long afternoons on the beach, girls in bikinis, lemonade on the terrace, the surfer’s frenzy, surfboards strapped to the hoods of cars, spins along the coast, the softness of windblown hair and views of the crowd. As we turn the pages, we relive with them the golden age of French surfing steeped in nostalgia and affection.
By Coline Olsina
Biarritz Sixties – Surf Origins
René Bégué and Alain Gardinier
Editions Atlantica, 120 pages