La Tranche Sur Mer translates literally to ‘the slice on the sea’. The slice is a quaint little village in the winter, with a population of just 3,000 permanent residents enjoying the beautiful beaches and surrounding forest in the colder months of the year. Cometh the summer, though, and cometh the tourists, as the population can swell to over 100,000.
Many of the tourists come to enjoy the warm weather, the wide open beaches, the plethora of tourist shops or the French village-style architecture ubiquitous throughout the town. Others, though, know La Tranche for having some of the best waves in the region.
Situated in a cozy corner of a huge national park, La Tranche has beaches angled west through to south. The western facing La Terriere is a wide expanse of sand with banks all along, while around the corner to the south there is a wave which is a long boarders paradise when it’s on.
La Terriere is a small village off the side of La Tranche which boasts the best beach in the region. The town itself is a beautiful amalgamation of small, white, stone houses. Between the village proper and the beach is a huge forest, complete with boars, deer, and plenty of green. Make your way through it (or just drive all the way to the beach carpark) and you’ll be greeted by a seemingly endless beach, and hopefully, a few good waves.
Facing directly out into the Atlantic Ocean, La Terriere and the breaks further up the beach seem to capture any swell headed towards it much better than their neighbours. Wander up to the beach to the north to the break called Bud Bud – apparently so-called because it was discovered by two American’s who drank nothing but Budweiser’s on their trip. Bud often seems to break as well as anywhere along the stretch of beach, and is fondly regarded among locals.
As with any exposed beach, conditions along this stretch can range from that of a lake through to catastrophically stormy, but on its day the waves here are heavenly.
If there’s a little bit of swell and some crisp offshores, you’ll be treated to perfection. The waves form as if in a man-made wave pool, offering up perfect barrels and waves which suit radical short-boards through to gliding mal’s and longboards.
On a day with more swell and messier conditions, the full force of the Atlantic Ocean can be felt here. It can be heavy and tough surfing, but with huge stretches of beach you may well be able to find a spot to yourself.
In the summer time, onshores are common and the crowd’s can be problematic on good days, but go there either side of peak season and you’ll find much better waves, avoid the tourists, and have some incredible sessions.
Le Phare translates to the lighthouse, and that’s exactly where you’ll find this break. On the corner of the west and south facing beaches, slow, rolling waves lumber in and run along the length of the south facing beach. When this works, it is a long boarders delight. With the waves running parallel to the beach, you can jump in with a Mal or a longboard wherever you like and hop on for a ride. You’ll be treated to a long, drawn out waves with plenty of time to perfect all the manoeuvres you can imagine.
This is a completely different wave to those you’ll find at La Terriere. The beauty of it though, is that often this works when La Terriere doesn’t. The west-south-west trades which relatively often blow La Terriere out of action in the summer often don’t affect the south facing Le Phare as much, meaning decent waves are still on offer for those with the right board when La Terriere isn’t working.
L’Embarc is a rare gem in the La Tranche Sur Mer wave setup. There is a pier further east from Le Phare, past the main part of town. There is a natural harbour here, meaning this spot is generally reserved for the docking of locals’ boats, but occasionally the swell hits on just the right angle and a perfect right-hander breaks here.
It seems impossible to envision a wave when it isn’t working here, which is most of the time. The water is completely calm, and there is a cluster of exposed rock barely two metres in front of where it breaks. When it is working though, it peels off so sharply to the right that these rocks are a non-factor. Taking off from virtually under the pier, this is a ride you will remember.
As one of the better spots in the region, tourists here are accustomed to having hoards of tourists make their way to La Tranche when the forecast is good. This breeds a competitive atmosphere, with locals who suffer their way through long periods of freezing cold and minimal waves frustrated by the crowds. As with all spots, show them respect, and you will be fine.
The region of Vendee, in which La Tranche Sur Mer is found, has plenty to do and see. O’Gliss Park is a huge water park less than 30 minutes drive from La Tranche, equipped with huge slides and plenty of different pools. Just around the corner is the Indian Forest, where you can climb and swing your way through the treetops on 17 different courses.
The city of La Rochelle is a beautiful beachside town an hour south, and head a little further to Ile de Re, an island which can be seen from all the beaches in La Tranche. In the opposite direction, Les Sables D’Olonne is a bustling town which wraps around the water front, and is definitely worth a visit.
La Tranche Sur-Mer is a beautiful place, worthy of a visit regardless of an intention to surf. If you are looking for waves though, you’ll certainly be pleased with what you stumble across in this little corner of the globe.