‘The Windsurf Project’ team turned their focus on Brittany this winter and its famed big wave spot of ‘Île aux Vaches’. Chasing a sweet forecast with a new found sponsor, the crew of Jamie Hancock and Thomas Traversa with guests Boujmaa Guilloul & Pierre Bouras, give us the lowdown on ‘Project Brittany’.
Words Jamie Hancock, Thomas Traversa, Boujmaa Guilloul & Pierre Bouras // Photos Pierre Bouras
The concept behind ‘The Windsurf Project’ is simple – to capture images of the best wave sailing on the planet. The idea came about in early 2018 from Thomas Traversa and I. I was looking for a way to combine my professional windsurfing career with my successful filmmaking business and Thomas has been one of the best wavesailors on the planet for a number of years, winning both a world title and the prestigious Red Bull Storm Chase in 2014. Thomas though truly excels away from competition, not only searching for new unridden waves but also in his approach to big wave riding. Documenting his adventures was something I had a passion for and the project seemed a natural fit.
For 2019 ‘The Windsurf Project’ has partnered with Bridgestone Tyres. Bridgestone shared our vision for seeking out the best waves on the planet. Scoring these perfect days comes down to research, preparation, exploration and 100% dedication. With the support of Bridgestone we have the means to search for the places we hadn’t really imagined were possible. The logistics that go into a windsurfing trip of this scale are quite big. Firstly, everything happens absolutely last minute on a forecast, so the inevitable level of panic and pressure to give the green light and start spending money on tickets and the rest kicks in. Secondly we need to find out what riders are available and where they are in the world relative to the location we all need to get to. Injuries and PWA events are a factor. I also need to make sure we have a film and camera crew available. We ideally need 3 people including me for the film crew and a photographer to document everything. I also want to shoot these projects with a cinema camera, so for example, for this trip to Brittany I hired an 8K Red Helium to shoot with. The other factor that we look at is local water safety options. If it is possible we want to make sure that we have that organised too. So all these factors have to be considered within 24 hours of committing, and that is all with the hope that the forecast doesn’t change, as ultimately wind and big waves are the most important factor!
So with the support from Bridgestone and looking at the weather models, the obvious place that we really wanted to focus on was the Northern Hemisphere, with Ireland being the main point of interest. We wanted a really big swell and to perhaps film over a couple of trips. The charts hadn’t been lining up until early December when a decent Atlantic low pressure started to head towards southern Ireland and the northwestern tip of France. I spoke with Thomas and we knew the legendary Brittany spot of ‘Île aux Vaches’ would be on and the perfect spot to film for ‘The Windsurf Project.’ France is an exceptional place for windsurfing from the northern storms passing through to the Mistral wind in the south. Its west coast is also in the firing line for some of the best Atlantic swells, which is why it is a breeding ground for so many talented windsurfers.
French photographer Pierre Bouras, who also came to Skeleton Bay with us for ‘The Windsurf Project’, is a Brittany local and was already on the phone to Boujmaa Guilloul to come and visit him on this forecast. So with Thomas flying in from Marseille, we had the crew. I picked up the ‘Red’ camera and had my friends James Sharp and Luke Raistrick to help with the filming. Luke was ready to jump in the water and James was a second cameraman, allowing me the flexibility to get some drone footage if possible. The last time I was in Île aux Vaches I could only do one thing at a time and it was a little frustrating as I really wanted to shoot from the water. Getting in the water is massively time consuming but fortunately Pierre has his own jet ski so was able to take himself and Luke out into the break and get the perfect angle to capture the action. We arrived two days before the swell was due which allowed us to explore the French coast a bit for a couple of fun sessions before the bigger swell. The whole focus for the trip was around Île aux Vaches but France is packed with wave sailing breaks. We joined up with local legends Robin Goffinet and Phillipe Mesmeur. Robin lives within a few miles of Île aux Vaches and shapes surfboards for Rob Surfboards and Phillipe is a one of the best talents in France. With the small crew of talented locals and visiting pros we managed to score a couple of fun days.
This was the best I had seen Île aux Vaches. As the day went on the swell kept getting bigger and bigger. The sun was out and the boys put on the best display of wave sailing I’ve seen in years. It felt like a historical day in windsurfing with a crowd formed on the rocks cheering every big hit, aerial and wipeout. At its peak the waves were nearly double mast high with Thomas and Boujmaa still hitting huge aerials. It was the perfect day and the images we captured speak for themselves.
I remember seeing pictures from Île aux Vaches in French windsurfing mags when I was 12 or 13 and was really impressed: blue water, clean faces and offshore winds. In my mind it was kind of the French version of Ho’okipa! Years later, in 2008, a friend from Brittany took me on my first trip to the area, and I knew straight away this place was something special for waveriding. The setup with the little island, the town of Audierne in the background, the very clear weather that the northwest wind usually brings, the quality of the wave of course, and the very friendly vibes in the water… it was hard not to fall in love with that spot!
Of course it has its bad days, I have been sometimes a bit disappointed by the conditions not matching the forecast, but with time and practice I have learned a few things: how much swell directions can affect the surf, how winds can turn a nice forecast into a messy day on the water when it blows too strong there, all the typical uncertainty that is part of windsurfing.
I did manage to score a couple of perfect days in the past, and while the local crew of riders has not grown much, each and every session has brought more spectators to the “island”, more photographers, more video clips released, and we have all been pushing our sailing further, making for greater action in better waves.
‘The Windsurf Project’ is the culmination of more than a decade of travelling and scoring almost empty waves all over the world. With the new partner of Bridgestone tyres supporting ‘The Windsurf Project’, 2019 is certainly going to be exciting. To have the opportunity to team up with a friend and great filmmaker to show in the best way what we love to do is a brilliant opportunity to showcase our sport. Taking a whole camera crew to Audierne for filming, with drones, water angles, land shots all done with a professional approach… it was a dream come true. Île aux Vaches was definitely going to get the attention it always deserved.
On the day of the big swell, the crowd on the island was bigger than ever, literally dozens of windsurfers, surfers, kiters and onlookers were standing on the rocks, only metres away from the action. The swell took some time to really come in, and a lot of the local guys went for a sail: more than 10 people sailing in solid waves, something I had never seen before, but seeing everyone trying to get a piece of it, was proof that the place was becoming a real classic in the area. It was a bit frustrating as there was a bit of competition on the outside to catch the set waves, but we could only blame ourselves for making the place popular.
Then the magic happened. In less than an hour the swell doubled in size, the wind turned more offshore and got lighter, turning the tricky morning conditions into a classic day of big wave action. It was just Boujmaa, Philippe and I riding perfect over mast high bowls. Luke and Pierre on the ski were getting incredible shots and couldn’t help cheering for us on the big ones and the crowd on the rocks got even bigger; it felt like we were taking part in a great show, courtesy of Mother Nature. It is rare to create pictures and videos that really do justice to the beauty of big wave riding days in Europe, but with the whole crew of ‘The Windsurf Project’ it was more than that: they turned a perfect moment into a shared experience, a day to remember.
Brittany has long been a fascinating destination for me, from a young age I’ve studied pictures of it in magazines that showed its amazing conditions, but I knew it took a lot to come together to score it also.
I had some time off after the Aloha Classic contest in Maui and when I got back home to Morocco the conditions were average and mainly good for surfing, but I saw a beautiful storm moving toward Île aux Vaches and I knew it was the perfect time to go there and ride the conditions that I dreamed of. I contacted Pierre after seeing some of his online posts asking if he should be going to chase a swell in Hawaii or just stay home and let it deliver and decided to join him for a little adventure. To find out later
that Thomas Traversa and ‘The Windsurf Project’ team were also onboard definitely spiced up the trip and made me even more excited about the whole journey. It was made all the more special meeting a long time friend, Robin Goffinet, who hosted us, making for precious moments shared together on and off the water.
The waves were just the right size and so was the wind, I was stoked I made the choice to come and very honoured to be part of ‘The Windsurf Project’ and their highly creative team. I can’t wait to share more of these moments with such like-minded human beings.
“ Brittany has long been a fascinating destination for me. ”
A week before the day, Boujmaa contacted me saying he wanted to leave his home in Morocco and come visit me in Brittany and sail. No conditions at home he told me! At that time I was still in Guadeloupe for a job, but I was flying back home in a few days.
A big storm was on the way to Europe and especially Brittany. I called Boujmaa back to tell him that it looked good for big waves and wind – everything he wanted! A few hours later Thomas Traversa sent me a text – “Hey there’s a swell in Île aux Vaches, it’s looking good.” “Yep,” I told him, “Boujmaa just booked his tickets, he’s coming in 2 days!” ‘The Windsurf Project’ was ON!
We had a few days of warming up before the big swell on Sunday. We were cruising in the south and north of Brittany, getting some waves under the boards and showing our visitors the local breaks. Come Sunday morning, Thomas was checking the charts and buoys to see if the big swell had arrived. We knew that the best part of the day would be the afternoon with a bit less wind and more offshore. But we never really know how this spot works for sure. Some days you have the right forecast for really good conditions and nothing happens. It’s always risky to call everyone and say, “Come, it’s ON!” and you turn up at the spot and it’s small or worse, flat. Our last trip in Namibia for ‘The Windsurf Project’ was also risky, with nobody knowing the spot or if the wind or waves were good for windsurfing, but sometimes you just get lucky! And lucky we got on this Sunday, a big sunny day for us and some good swell breaking along the island. In February 2018 we scored it big with Thomas but it wasn’t this clean and it was cloudy. For me taking pictures, this Sunday was THE day! Perfect light, great waves and the riders on fire too. I jumped on my jet ski and grabbed Luke, one of the filming crew for ‘The Windsurf Project’, to get closer to the action and have a different point of view to shoot from! It was also some safety cover for the guys if they broke something. After a couple of rides in the morning, it was time for a little break with the crew to have lunch and talk about life in general. Thomas, Boujmaa and Jamie had left their wives and babies at home to come here, we kind of knew this could be our last trip of the year, even if there was another storm next week in Europe, they had all burnt their credit. As time passed, some nice sets started breaking on the spot! It was getting bigger! It’s 3pm, time to go back in the water! The ocean was showing us the beauty of nature in all its glory. The wind dropped a bit and turned more offshore, the forecast was right.
What a day for Boujmaa, first time in Brittany and scoring a premium day at Île aux Vaches. I’ve been checking this spot for a few years and this was the best day I’d ever seen. I was happy to see Thomas, Boujmaa and Philippe and Robin, my 2 local friends, doing their best to rip the pristine lips! As the sun went down, so did the wind too, but the big aerial battle between Thomas and Boujmaa continued until the very end! Boujmaa got a bomb and did one of the biggest airs of his life for sure! A perfect wrap for ‘The Windsurf Project’ in Brittany. What a day, what a mission, we scored again! Where should the next stop for our great adventure be with ‘The Windsurf Project’? We will see where the wind will bring us and share it with some great people and friends I’m sure us and share it with some great people and friends I’m sure.
“ I’ve been checking this spot for a few years and this was the best day I’d ever seen.”