This story was published in partnership with Breitling
Most will not have heard of the small seaside town Biarritz tucked away in the south-west corner of France. Close to the border of Spain on the Basque coast, Biarritz is somewhat of a European surfing mecca known for its large Atlantic swells which roll in during autumn and winter.
During the summer months, however, Biarritz becomes a playground for French holiday makers escaping the city. Just a one hour flight from Paris, Biarritz is a low key town far away from the flashy glamour of St Tropez and the French Riviera.
It’s because of this relaxed vibe that it was chosen as the home of one of Europe’s coolest events: Wheels & Waves. Now in its eighth year of operation, Wheels & Waves is four days of classic motorcycle, surfing and skateboarding madness. Thousands of enthusiasts from all over Europe (and the world) descend on Biarritz to watch and participate in its many competitions and events.
Wheels and Waves was the brainchild of Vincent Prat, Jerôme Allé, Frédéric Antoine, Benoit Guerry, Thierry de Miras, and Julien Azé – a group of men who shared a common passion for custom motorcycles and surfing. Together they kicked off their adventure in 2009. Then, as word got out, their small event quickly grew in numbers. Today it envelopes Biarritz with motorcycles in every cafe and on every road and corner.
Last year Breitling began its partnership with the vagabond event in the hopes of appealing to a new audience. With the brand’s marketing positioning of sea, air and land it makes total sense. Many attendees are collectors and die-hard enthusiasts with toys to buy and money to burn. A Swiss watch is a logical extension and a drop in the ocean when you see just how much some of the custom bikes on display at Wheels & Waves cost.
Wheels & Waves is eclectic mix of enthusiasts, manufacturers, custom workshops, athletes and average Joes like myself. Everyone’s super friendly and more importantly incredibly curious when it comes to each other’s bikes. The Wheels & Waves village occupies the Cité de l’Océan, a large reserve type of beachfront. It’s here attendees gather to listen to bands, inspect motorcycles on display, hear the scraping sounds of surfboard shaping and marvel at the ‘Wall of Death’ motorcycle demonstration.
Down on the foreshore pro surfers mingle with the crowd, including friends of Breitling like Jeremy Flores (the most successful European pro surfer of all time) and British big wave surfer Andrew Cotton just to name a few. The conditions this summer weekend are better suited to the longboarders who arrive in droves to compete for Wheels & Waves glory.
The hills and areas nearby play host to a number of interesting events that are just as wild. It was here we made a one hour trek in a rickety post war bus toward the hills to a motocross track to experience the Deus Ex Machina Swank Rally. What’s a Swank Rally? Well, it’s a classic enduro race where there’s no new bikes – only those from the 60s, 70s and 80s. There’s no wild tricks as well. It’s just men and women trying to get their bikes to the end of the 6.5km track.
Riders on XR600’s, DT’s and Husqvanas all patiently line up to try their luck at the time trial course on their bike. Stuart Garner of Norton Motorcycles and Breitling’s CEO Georges Kern even throw a leg over a bike to try their luck at the track. Walking along the Swank Rally course you see bikes which are clearly past their prime, laying broken and abandoned on the side waiting for recovery after the race.
Crowds swarm riders as they fire up their old beasts or watch patiently as older engines refuse to start. Watching these guys spend ten minutes trying to start old clunkers reminded me of my old YZ125 which would start once every other day.
Another short bus ride over the border toward Spain’s Jaizkibel Hondarribia you have the Punk’s Peak Sprint Race where classic road bikes go head to head in the hills for time trial glory. Then continuing on toward San Sebastian at Hippodrome de San-Sebastian you have the El Rollo Flat Track Race. If plethora of sights don’t move you then the sounds definitely will.
Unfortunately, we only managed to spend 48 hours in Biarritz for Wheels & Waves. We would recommend spending the full four days here and experience the event and what the region has to offer. For the lovers of Wheels & Waves and classic motorcycles, we would also recommend checking out Breitling’s limited edition Wheels & Waves Premier collection. This is a great partnership and celebration of all cool things on wheels and water.