The first session at Belharra, 20 years ago, told by Peyo Lizarazu and Greg Rabejac

This Tuesday evening, a handful of intrepid and somewhat avant-garde surfers will sit down in a good restaurant in the Basque Country to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first session on a rather special wave. Off the port of Hendaye and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, more than 2 km from the shore, the Belharra spot. On November 22, 2002, six Basque gladiators opened the ball for a spectacular adventure on an extraordinary wave that was unknown until then.

At first no one believed it

If this breaking zone was identified on the nautical charts and known by the local fishermen, the wave was discovered by a certain Peyo Lizarazu, an inveterate waterman. “ I lived opposite and I opened the door, assures the younger brother of the football world champion. In my youth, I saw this wave offshore. I said to myself: “But what is that?” It wasn’t until the late 90s, when I started towing with Max Larretche and found myself living in my brother Bixente’s house, which faced Belharra, that I I understood that there was something special there. »

Initially, however, it was not taken seriously. And for a simple reason: Hendaye and Saint-Jean-de-Luz are known to be where the waves are the smallest in the Basque Country. “ I still ended up convincing them. In February 2002, I saw one morning that it was going to break. But I had to go on the move. Max and Fred (Basse) came and they saw the wave by the Corniche road. They hallucinated. Nine months later, on November 22, 2002, the first session finally took place.

“We were very methodical, we took turns taking waves”

If this magical moment could be immortalized, it is thanks to four people in the air: photographer Greg Rabejac, his wife, videographer Nicolas Dazet and the pilot… of the helicopter. “ Before Belharra I worked with big surfers in France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Scotlandsays Rabejac. I knew that these type of waves were quite complex to shoot. Belharra being far from the edge and seeing the work of Sylvain Cazenave at Jaws with Laird Hamilton, I decided to bet on a helicopter. It was a pretty big investment at the time, but I was convinced it was the most attractive option. I proposed to “Daz”, who was then a videographer, to accompany me. We then had to find the helicopter and the pilot, and explain to him what we wanted. I also “hired” my wife to be my assistant, her mission was to change the coils for me. »

Vincent Lartizien.  (Greg Rabejac)

Vincent Lartizien. (Greg Rabejac)

In the water, six surfers divided into three crews: Max Larretche – Peyo Lizarazu, Michel Larronde – Vincent Lartizien and the duo Yann Benetrix – Fred Basse. Given his status as spot discoverer, Peyo Lizarazu had priority to catch this historic first wave. But a small mechanical problem on his jet-ski delayed his first drop. “ Our mechanic came by express and we left offshore 40 minutes latertold us Lizarazu. Meanwhile, Michel and Vincent had already taken waves. The first was taken by Vincent Lartizien. “ We stayed two hours offshore. We were very methodical, we took turns taking waves. And we were very careful about safety, we had small equipment. »

“It was completely crazy, unreal. I felt like I was dreaming. »

For two hours, the six riders are like in a time capsule, out of time. ” We were on another planetassures Peyo Lizarazu. It wasn’t a huge Belharra but this wave, when it breaks, it’s still very big. This November 22, 2002, the wave rises to 6-7 meters. It is swept by a wind which forms a small chop. The wrinkles are extreme. ” What struck me was the speed and violence of the shocksremembers Lizarazu. It was as if we were skiing on a very icy slope with bumps. It’s speed surfing, you make a jump almost every meter. You fly as much as you touch the water. »

Greg Rabejac and his team spent two hours flying above the furious spot and these majestic mountains. “ It was completely crazy, unrealsparkles Rabejac. I felt like I was dreaming. We also had this vision of being in France, with our Pyrenees, the Rhune, Mount Jaizkibel… When you’re in a helicopter, you feel like a bird. And we were lucky to have an experienced pilot who mastered his machine well. We were flying low but not too much either because we didn’t want to be a parasite for the surfers, who had to be well concentrated. The wave became like a nugget that opened up before our eyes. The show was very impressive. It was an unforgettable, powerful and unique moment. When we landed, with Nico (Dazet) we had lost our voice, we had trouble speaking. The beginning of a mythical story that has lasted for 20 years. And who won’t stop.

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