Annaëlle: the notorious French bodyboarding slab

September 7, 2021 | Bodyboarding
Annaëlle: a thick, heavy and fast barreling wave breaking off the coast of Brittany in France | Photo: Laurent Bourdier

Meet Annaëlle, a French bodyboarding wave that provides as many horrendous wipeouts as glorious rides.

How would you describe this beast? To put it simply, if Western Australia has The Box, France has Annaëlle. Got it?

Annaëlle is a slab wave that breaks on an island located north off the coast of Finistère in Brittany, France.

It roars to life near the communes of Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau and Plouguerneau, in the heart of the Celtic culture.

The deserted island was privately owned until 2016.

But with the death of the proprietor, ownership was transferred to Conservatoire du Littoral, a French government agency.

The whole region features a series of small islands fully exposed to the volatile temperament of the Atlantic Ocean and its famed storms.

Initially, it was just a dream wave observed from the coastline with binoculars. But, courage, perseverance, and teamwork made it a rideable 21st-century surf break.

It takes ten minutes by boat to get to Annaëlle, the mother of all French waves, alongside Belharra, another notorious surf spot near Biarritz.

Every time a group of locals eyes a potentially epic swell, they immediately embark on what can easily be described as a mission - a ride-or-die operation.

David Lefèvre and Gwen Renambot are two of the most active members of the hardcore Brittany bodyboarding community and some of Annaëlle's dearest keepers.

Annaëlle is a reef break wave that works best on a 10-to-12-foot NW swell, south winds, and a low tidal coefficient.

The average water temperature is around 57 °F (14 °F), which means a comfortable 4/3mm wetsuit is always a wise pick.

Annaëlle: a challenging wave that requires skills, cold blood, and full commitment | Photo: Picat

An Unforgiving Slab

Annaëlle is a wave that breaks in extremely shallow waters. The bowl has a very precise and unforgiving take-off spot.

The mutant slab provides right and left-hand barreling waves that are often accompanied by steep drops into the abyss.

Late take-offs can be simultaneously required and avoided, a skill that clearly reveals the randomness of France's infamous bodyboarding wave.

Thick green rooms that can only be tamed and exited by advanced and professional riders and cold-blooded humans.

It's one of those waves sensitive to tide changes and changes in swell and wind windows.

Annaëlle requires commitment and a very good bottom-turn, as speed is a critical factor that generally determines the success of a ride.

But the French monster wave can also be unpredictable and unexpectedly brutal with the most accomplished bodyboarder.

In other words, you may be doing everything well and still get dramatically punished with broken bones and scalp cuts.

Annaëlle is a wave that should only be ridden with supervision, jet ski or boat support and - ideally - first-aid professionals on site.

Expect death-defying close-outs and heavy and fast-breaking lips detonating in cold waters.

At its best, "Anna-Hell" provides double overhead waves.

Annaëlle: an unpredictable and dangerous reef break capable of delivering epic green rooms | Photo: Deregniaux

Annaëlle Challenge: The Ultimate Bodyboarding Test

The Annaëlle Challenge is a specialty event run every year by the local riders and Tomahawk Surf Club since 2009. It is the most prestigious bodyboarding contest held in France.

It features a waiting period and attracts some of the world's greatest bodyboarders.

When the conditions align, organizers typically have a maximum of 48 hours to start and finish the contest.

Due to its remote and tricky access and lack of internet access, the competition does not provide a live webcast.

Actually, just to get there, athletes, the organization, and medical staff have to experience a tempestuous boat trip to accost on the island.

Contest officials and voluntaries often have to wait for the high tide to get athletes on the water; otherwise, it's simply too dangerous.

The event wraps up with the award ceremony and everyone tasting Kig Ha Farz, the famous Breton dish.