Undeniably exotic and captivating, France's tropical islands and the surf culture that invariably springs up around them has a unique allure and appeal. From Tahiti, to St. Barts, to St. Martin, to Réunion, I'm not sure if it's the accent, the mountains, that essence of joie-de-vivre, it all just feels so cool.
While I can't speak to Tahiti or Réunion, I can say that St. Martin surfing is just that... cool.
Only a 20 minute boat ride from Anguilla, if you have the inclination to surf and get a little taste of French island culture, the experience of surfing in St. Martin is worth the quick trip over.
I met Franck Rigal back in 2010. He gave me and my sister our first lesson at a popular St. Martin surf spot, the wind-swept "Le Galion." It's a pretty majestic setting, lying just shy of half a mile offshore, overlooking mountainous St. Martin.
Originally from a land-locked town in south-east France, it's probably more appropriate to say that Franck is a St. Martin-native. When he was 9 years old, he moved to this tropical paradise with his parents who ran a hotel in Orient Bay. Day and night he was in the sea, boogie board at his side.
For months he and a childhood friend would ride the waves at Orient Bay, trying to even stand up on the tiny board. His friend's Dad, a surfer, watched them as they struggled to get to their feet on a board that's meant only for lying down. A light went on in his head.
On a clear, fateful day, he brought Franck and his son to Plum Bay, St. Martin and introduced them to surfing. Franck's surf obsession was set in motion. There was no turning back.
Photo By: Ludivine Photo
You know you're in safe hands when surfing with Franck. He's been surfing since 1990, and teaching surfing on and off since the early 2000's. He decided to pursue it full-time in the mid 2000's.
He is a certified surf instructor and lifeguard (certified by France's rigorous training program), and like you might expect, has a ton of personal experience. He's surfed across the Caribbean, in some of the most famous places in France (like Hossegar), and even in Indonesia!
He is a serious surfer.
Franck in Mentawai, Indonesia
With such passion and ability, it seems only natural that he would start his own business, SXM Surf Explorer. His school focuses on delivering truly personal surfing lessons in various spots around the island, from the popular to the more tucked away.
Me & Franck Rigal at Le Galion
Whether a beginner hungry for the first ride, an intermediate surfer looking to improve, or an expert seeking challenging conditions or hidden spots, Franck is the go-to surf guide on the island.
If you're just beginning, or have had a few surfing lessons (like me), Franck starts you at Le Galion. Beyond the calm waters, larger waves break over a mossy reef (a couple of feet deep at its shallowest, several feet deep further out) just offshore. To get there, you go by boat (or be ready to paddle for a half hour or so!).
As an aside, Le Galion is a special spot...
Coming from Anguilla, where we have the most spectacular stretches of sand in the world(!), it's hard for anywhere else to really compare. That said, if you like Anguilla's beaches, you will like Le Galion. Its bay twinkles a light turquoise and a large outer reef ensures tranquility inshore. Here, you will mostly find locals and their families, and a small, tasty beach bar, Tropical Wave.
It may be right next door to St. Martin's busy and bustling Orient Bay, but it feels worlds apart...
Tropical Wave at Le Galion
Tropical Wave serves good food, and rents beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks.
Back to the surf spot...
Galion Reef Break
The waves here can range in size, from 2-3 feet up to 6 feet or so in winter months. The beach faces east. So, it is exposed to plenty of wind and the wide open ocean. Not too scary, but not calm either, it's a good spot to challenge yourself if you are just beginning. And, depending on conditions, it can be a lot of fun for more experienced surfers.
It was time for the surfing lesson. In classic surf school fashion, we started by practicing technique on the beach.
Franck wanted to see how I had been paddling and standing up on the board. I knew I was doing something wrong when he told me, "Forget everything you've learned until now."
After 15 minutes of showing me the right way, it was to the boat!
Into the sea!
Gliding across Le Galion's glassy-clear waters was such a peaceful way to start a day of surfing...
We hopped into the boat and drove out to the break, just a 5 minute drive. On the way over Franck noted that he doesn't do big group lessons, with his boat holding a maximum of 4 people.
It was me, him, and a couple from Guadeloupe who were just renting boards and hopping a ride on his boat. The lesson was one-on-one, which makes a huge difference when you want to focus on improving your ability.
Next step before putting the theoretical to the practical test? Wax the board down! Franck told me a little bit more about the break and the waves, where to navigate, how to stay out of harm's way. Naturally, should anything happen, Franck's always within just a few yards of wherever you are.
Over board and out onto the water! The first thing I learned? I need to get in better shape. Franck anchors the boat at a safe distance from the breaking waves, so the paddle from the boat to the line up really works your deltoids and triceps.
Franck paddles out to the line up with you. He spots the bad waves and tells you when to jump off your board and dive under bigger sets. Knowing he's reckoned with some notorious breaks and survived "heavier" conditions really makes you feel at ease.
He finds the right wave, gets you in the right spot and pushes you onto it (if you're still beginning). Go, go, go and I was up!...
Surfing at Galion
Catching a wave, sliding down it, propelled by its energy, what a sensation. Another, another, another, pleeeeease!
After riding a couple of waves all the way in, I started falling off of the next ones. Franck asked me, "what do you think went wrong?" each time. And, each time I had no idea, but he did.
Franck pointed out my mistakes in real-time, and I corrected them. No (or less) fear, just focus. Simple, practical. It worked. He's an excellent coach, and I can really see how, if you're a more intermediate or advanced surfer, he would really be able to improve your technique.
After helping me catch several waves, he urged me to go for one on my own. I missed several, got rolled by a few, and finally, caught one. Completely rewarding!
Catching a wave...
When it was finally time to head back, I was worked! Muscles aching, eyes burning, I couldn't wait to do it again. Bobbing up and down in the warm, clear Caribbean Sea, watching bigger waves loom overhead, feeling them carry you in, rendering you weightless, so free... there's no better way to be on the sea.
My goal now? Return and improve!
Merci & à bientôt, Franck!
If you're interested in surfing with Franck, click here for his contact info. His rates are very reasonable and he offers different packages depending on the number of lessons and the size of the group.
Have fun, and above all, like Franck says, "VIVE LE SURF!" :-)
Directions: Surfing in St. Martin is so simple. Just take the Anguilla ferry from Blowing Point to Marigot. From Marigot, Franck can pick you up if you would like. He will bring you to the surf spot, Le Galion (see map below) and then bring you back to Marigot after your lesson.
A reef break on the east side of St. Martin.
Tel: (+59) 0690 626 828
To book a lesson, use the form below!