France’s “other” overseas island department is often overlooked amidst the hype surrounding Tahiti’s infamous break at The End of the Road, but this island off the east coast of Africa is noteworthy in its own right, both for breathtaking landscapes and world-class waves. A thriving tourist destination for French travelers, Reunion has seen its popularity decline with the surfing population in recent years (due to lack of exposure and a recent rash of shark attacks), but there is a reason Rip Curl ran the original Search event at St. Leu, and Reunion’s marquee spot remains one of the best tropical lefthand reef points in the world.
The Surf: Breaking over coral reef, the waves on Reunion range from long, perfectly rippable points to heaving slabs. Depending on what breaks you choose to surf, this destination caters to surfers in the intermediate to expert range.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- St. Leu: Reunion’s crown jewel, St. Leu is a long, symmetrical lefthand reef point with endless high performance potential and a hollow barrel section.
- Etang-Sale-les-Bains: A punchy beach break on the same side of the island as St. Leu, this is a good option when other spots are too small, but tends to get out of control when the swell is pumping (which is often).
- St. Pierre (The Jetty): A shallow, powerful right (and left for the suicidal), this wave is consequential, but rewards the courageous with heaving barrels.
- La Pointe au Sel: A fast, critical lefthand reef point that is typically less crowded than St. Leu, but more exposed to the wind.
- St. Gilles-les-Bains: A well-developed beach scene popular with bikini-clad tourists, St. Gilles-les-Bains has a number of quality reef breaks, and is a great option if you are looking to mix business with pleasure.
The Water: While Reunion’s water has that typical tropical blue flavor, developed areas can be a bit dirty, and poor rivermouth visibility after rains means a higher likelihood of shark attack. Surface temps range from 73 to 83 F (23 to 28 C), which means you’ll never need more than a 2mm wetsuit top, or a spring suit at the very most.
The Season: Winter swells hammer Reunion’s west coast between April and October, while summers (December through February) see the odd cyclone swell on the sharkier, less-surfed east coast.
The Vibe: Reunion has a lot of surfers, and many of them are quite good. It is possible to suffer vibes on the island, particularly if you bring a bad attitude to a crowded spot (such as St. Leu), but the real danger in the water is the huge population of aggressive sharks. Although Reunion’s aquatic carnivores have been infamous for decades, a recent rash of attacks in 2012 actually resulted in the controversial authorization of shark culling in the St. Leu region (the policy was ultimately withdrawn due to public outrage). Whether or not you agree with this policy, be aware that Reunion is one of the sharkiest destinations out there.
Things To Do: Reunion is a unique hybrid of tropical paradise and austere volcanic moonscape, making the island an incredible destination for hikers, naturalists, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Reunion also has an active nightlife catering to the throngs of French tourists, so you’ll never be short of entertainment.
Where To Stay: Reunion is a major French tourist destination, and has extensive infrastructure to support visitors (i.e., lots of quality hotels). Like other French outposts, however, it is an extremely expensive destination to visit, so go prepared to spend.
What To Bring: A shortboard and a step-up. A bag full of surf accessories, as gear will be quite pricey on-island. A good pair of hiking boots, a pocketful of cash, your A-game if you hope to get in with the French ladies, and a Speedo™ if you want to fit in with the French men.
Getting There: Since Reunion is a French department, convenient flights are available out of Paris (which explains the hordes of French tourists). For the rest of us, connections through South Africa or Mauritius are a good option, with Roland Garros International Airport being the main gateway onto the island. Reunion has its own border laws that differ slightly from those of France, but visas are not required for citizens of many countries. Airport code: RUN.