Every time I called my dad on the phone during the whole time I was in Biarritz the first question he would ask me was, “Chloé have you learned any french surfing terms yet?” And to answer that question, I really only learned a couple.
“Ram” means paddle. I often would hear this in the water when I happened to be next to one of the 6 surf schools in the water. I would just hear in instructor yelling, “RAM, RAM, RAM!!” And then you’d see the kid on the 9-foot foam board that was paddling for his life catch the wave then nose dive and eat shit. Normal sight at the Côte des Basques beach.
“Houle” means swell though I didn’t learn this word until about a month and a half in because well, there was no swell here. You can also just use the word swell and people will know what you’re talking about.
“Derives” is the direct translation for fins.
“Au large” is the term used to describe the waves that break past the white wash. Pretty much if you’re taking a surf class and the teacher takes you out surfing, “au large” it means you’re better than average. Whenever the classes would come back we would hear people say, “The teacher told me to go out “au large”” with a cocky smirk on their faces.
“Baine” means channel. Being the easiest spot to paddle out when we actually got some swell. Far right when facing the ocean at the Cote des Basques you could almost always see a class or two of students paddling out using the channel.
“Grom” is a word used in the surfing world to describe kids that are good at surfing. We use the same word in English though in French it is pronounced “groom”. When I first got to Biarritz there was a competition for the groms going on at the beach and they kept saying “grooms”. I was a bit confused.
“Ciao” is as most of you know a way to say hello and goodbye in Italian. Though not specifically a surf term, I found that it’s the way most surfers at the Côte des Basques would say bye to each other. You can even throw in a “Bella” or “Bello” (masculine) meaning “pretty” if you want to make someones day. I loved it and started using it to say bye when I was over there.
Other than that all the words that people usually use in surfing culture are said in English. The French slang language already has a ton of english words. I guess it’s just easier to say them then to translate. If you every go to France for a surf trip try out some of these words. Even if the french understand when you say english terms. It might help you fit in and be more easily accepted by the locals. Ciao bellos!