I heard about Wheels and Waves festival a couple of years ago when I was researching festivals for Rad that had a mixture of action sports, music and lifestyle. Then when I dug a little deeper, a friend of mine had already been and told me what an awesome time he had riding his bike around the Basque hills and surfing; not to mention, the unreal local food produce.
Now in its 8th year, Wheels and Waves Festival has come back to Cite de l’Ocean on the edge of the world-famous surfing region and coastal town of Biarritz in the southwest of France.
After travelling through Germany, England and spending the week in Montpellier, I was just a tad excited to be getting back into the water! We stayed in the neighboring town of Bidart in the Basque Country. Driving down from Montpellier was really straight forward; we just had to follow the A61 motorway to Toulouse and take the A64 towards Biarritz. Make sure to have plenty of change ready as the motorways are ‘pay to play’ and there are toll charges every time you leave the motorway.
We settled into our Airbnb, which was in a wicked location only a ten-minute walk from the beach and ten minutes to Cite de l’Ocean; home of the Wheels and Waves Festival Village. It was also next to an awesome restaurant called Le Repaire d’Île-Bar-Ritz, which came fully equipped with a kids room; perfect for Theo, Kat and I as the room was right next to the bar! We had an early night ahead of the action-packed weekend ahead.
In between the rolling green Basque hills and the stunning coastline lies Cite de l’Ocean, home of the Wheels and Waves Village; the official headquarters for the festival. Although the event takes place at a number of different venues throughout the city, this is where the heart of the action is. As soon as you walk into the village, you are swept away into a unique retro vibe with wicked motorbike exhibitor stands everywhere. You’d also find people riding around the village on their bikes from vintage classics to Harleys; you name it, it was going on in the village!
The village is split into two main sections: the Wheels side with the mini ramp and motorbike exhibitors, and the Waves/Surf side, with a number of epic food stalls. Of course, you can’t ignore the massive main stage and bar area, which was located smack bang in the middle of the village. One thing you cannot miss is the carefully curated selection of food stalls and vendors at the Wheels and Waves Village. You could find a variety of unique cuisines and food trucks; such as Le Spot, with delicious hamburgers, La Guinguette de Nena, with fresh, organic and healthy and options and Balls & Glory, with meat and veggie balls. There was also Mama & Papa with fine dining options; and a number of other food trucks.
One of the stand out highlights of the village area was without a doubt the Indian Motorcycle’s Wall of Death. This thing was unbelievable! I’d seen videos of the Wall of Death before, where motorcyclists go around a vertical wall, which seems absolutely insane!
When you get up close and personal, it can only fit about 200 people so spectators peer over the edge of the wall to witness the insanity of two motorbike riders screaming around the walls. The whole tower shakes and the rev of the bikes is enough to give you chills as they zip past your face; if you’re lucky enough to be in the front row. This was my absolute highlight of the event so much that I went back a couple of times. They have shows on the hour every hour.
On the first day of the festival, the main event was Punks Peak over the border, just past San Sebastian Airport in Jaizkibel Hondarribia. After hanging out in the village, checking out the skating and exhibitors, I jumped in the car and cruised down south to Jaizkibel. They had blocked off a mile stretch of road right at the top of the hills in the stunning Basque Country. I definitely wished I had a bike as the walk up the hill from the car took a while; but on the bright side, you get to see all the incredible bikes parked up along the road along the way!
Punks Peak Sprint Race is open to all riders and has different categories. The format is one on one, with heats going off every couple of minutes. The winner is the first one to finish. This was an awesome spectacle with the crowd cheering on in the fields and cows looking on in bewilderment.
On the Friday of Wheels and Waves Festival, The Deus Swank Rally took place at the Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle. There were 6km of winding dirt tracks, which were accessible to all riders and dedicated to enduro and off-road motorcycles. There were opportunities for daily riders to attend and you can enjoy the panoramic views from the track.
Right by the entrance was the Hit the Deck skate mini ramp in the Wheels and Waves Village constructed by IOU Ramps. They had demos and skateboard lessons going on every morning of the five-day festival.
The Hit the Deck skate contest had some next level skating, featuring free 30-minute training sessions from 10 am to 12 am. Between 3 pm – 7 pm, the Cash for Tricks event took place. The ‘Cash for Tricks’ event was a particular highlight; with local and national skaters putting it all on the line to bring our their bag of tricks and nail the best trick at the open comp to pick up some dough.
At the bottom of the Wheels and Waves village lies the stunning Plage de la Milady, home to the Log Invitational Surf Contest. Conditions were ideal for the event with an optimal swell; giving plenty of time to carve and nose ride back to the shore.
Earning its place in the motorcycle scene, El Rollo Flat is home to one of the most exclusive flat race tracks in the world. The El Rollo Flat Track Race took place at the Hippodrome de San-Sebastian and we had public access from 11.30 am onwards.
The race started at around 1.30 pm and went until 4.30 pm; with the prize-giving ceremony taking place in the village at 7 pm. The event featured a quarter-mile of fun suitable for any level and adventurous visitors and eager onlookers alike gathered to the Hippodrome to get a piece of the action.
There was a cool art exhibition in the Wheels and Waves village in cargo containers, showing both art and photography; along with a piece outside by famed London street artist Dface. The main attraction was, however, a couple of kilometers away at the Artscape exhibition in the Biarritz skatepark.
Mixing photography and painting along with some epic motorbikes within the exhibition made it an absolutely packed and memorable opening might. Having it in the skatepark was such a different and unique experience; it definitely beats the usual white walls of a traditional gallery.
Being right on the beach and smack bang in line with the Atlantic swells, it goes without saying that there are some pretty decent surfing options up and down the coast. The roads in the hills are epic for cruising around on a bike and have some stunning lookout points along the way. There are also a tonne of exciting things to do with kids for the whole family to enjoy, from city tours to the zoo and even a decked out campsite with a water park!
Getting to Wheels and Waves Festival is easy with both public transport or your own car. The nearest airport is Biarritz Airport, which is only 30 minutes away. You can also fly into San Sebastian or Bilbao, which is located further along the coast. You can also take the train from most major cities around France. There are direct trains available from Paris to Biarritz with a travel time of 5 hours and 20 minutes; as well as a direct overnight train taking just over 10 hours.
There are also a number of car rental options throughout France, with counters available at all major airports as well as throughout the big cities. France also offers a lease-back program with Renault for foreign visitors who want to rent a car for more than three weeks; which offers the most economical way to hire a car. Driving from Paris to Biarritz takes around 7 hours and include toll roads.
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