First Light Spotlight - Yannick // Brittany, France

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This next spotlight takes us overseas to France where we catch up with Yannick. Despite growing up far from the ocean and initially fearing large bodies of water, Yannick discovered a love for surfing later in life which transformed his approach to exercise and self-care.

In this spotlight we chat with Yannick about his surfing journey, his passion for photography, and the surf culture in France.


Q. What got you into surfing and where's your favorite spot to go?

Yannick - I grew up far from the ocean. I was never a good swimmer, and I was actually scared of large masses of water. Nothing pointed in the direction of me and a surfboard being friends. I used to skate when I was a teenager, still kind of am. Six years ago, we moved from the east of Belgium to Brittany, France. The ocean was now within reach. For Father’s Day a few years ago, just before the first Covid lockdown, I shared surf lessons with my son. The first time I stood up, I knew I wouldn’t stop. I took swimming lessons to get better and feel confident in the water. Here I am, four years later, waking up early to catch a few waves before I head back home to work.

My favorite spot is a beach break named Le Dossen. It is not the most consistent one, but it is one of the closest to my home and has a friendly, welcoming community. This is where I had my first lessons. It is located on the north coast of Finistère. I am actually heading there tomorrow, first thing in the morning. The conditions look cool! I might not be back for work and will have to do a few extra hours later. But, I am sure it will be worth it. Sorry boss, if you read this.

yannick, brittany, france, first light surf club, spotlight, photographer, surfer, surfing, surf

Q. What was it like learning to surf as an adult?

Yannick - For a long time, I was bad at exercising and taking care of myself. When I started, I wasn’t in the best (or any) physical shape. Add to that starting at 35 and being 6’4" tall without fantastic balance, and I think you can imagine how it was learning how to surf. Really nothing to make me a prolific wave catcher.

It was a challenge. But, to be fair, a good one. Surfing isn’t the easiest sport to learn, but the good thing is that it's rewarding even if you catch no waves. I feel like I am exercising more for the sake of getting better in the water. I wish I had discovered this earlier in my life. I mean, now I just have cracking knees and all those things that come with aging.

Learning to surf helped me learn to care about myself. Even if I caught no waves, I would be grateful for what surfing brought me. But I am glad I am catching some!

Q. What got you into photography and what is it about the ocean and surfing that you enjoy capturing?

Yannick - I’ve been on and off photography for the better part of the last 20 years. I started with the equivalent of a Canon Rebel. I have gigabytes of pictures that are just ugly. Memories. At some point, my wife got me a toy film camera from Lomography. That is when I got serious about film photography. I learned to develop and scan myself. Because of the cost, I stopped film for a while. I never stopped documenting my life with a camera.
yannick, brittany, france, first light surf club, spotlight, photographer, surfer, surfing, surf
I love to document life as it happens. Now, my life revolves a lot around the ocean. I love how Brittany is a region turned towards the ocean and how beautiful our coast is. I am into surf and coastal photography because this is where I spend a lot of time. I like to combine passions. This makes it easier to feel the thrill of them.

And to come back to surf photography, documenting the variety and the less glamorous part of it is amazing. I love what Ryan Tatar did in documenting the surfing communities around him. I am greatly inspired by his work. It is his fault if I sold all my digital gear four years ago to get a Leica M6. I wanted to do something similar. I enjoyed what John Patrick Brodie published. His storytelling is amazing. I love telling stories. I do love what Thomas Lodin has been doing more recently! He has a crazy good eye, and the documentaries he got published recently in magazines are just so good. I guess I am trying to combine a lot of those approaches into what I am doing. I just love the vibes you find in all the various communities.

Q. How does being in the ocean whether it’s surfing or taking photos affect your mood and mindset?

Yannick - I often say that if there weren’t the ocean and longboards, I would have to pay a therapist weekly. To me, it is basically the cheapest therapy I can afford. It calms me down, and allows me to be more present with the family once I get out of the ocean. It resets my mood and helps me relieve a lot of anxiety and stress that I tend to accumulate. Photography and surfing share that thing where you truly have to be present if you don’t want to miss the good parts. I am easily distracted by the crap on my phone. We all know it, I guess. And getting to the ocean for pictures or surf allows me to forget about that window demanding my attention constantly. It helped me also bring some of that inner peace back to land.

yannick, brittany, france, first light surf club, spotlight, photographer, surfer, surfing, surf

Q. Can you tell us a little about the surf community in Brittany, France?

Yannick - The Brittany coastline is about the same as California's, close to 5000 km, about 3100 miles. We have many vibrant communities. But due to the shape of Brittany, it is easier to go from one part to another. I’ve met people everywhere since we moved here. The place I am at now is about a 1h30 drive from the best spots in Brittany, which is quite cool. The people I've met are pretty welcoming and great to chat with. I've met many people here I consider friends now. I haven’t yet experienced really bad moments in the water or out of it. I mean, there are idiots everywhere; it's just pure statistics. But I think that as long as you arrive with a smile, a positive mood, say hello, and observe before taking a wave, it's gonna be fine.

Since I started, I’ve seen the longboard scene get better and more visible. We're starting to have a lot of great events and surf clubs emerging here. People of all horizons having fun. Brittany is not the sunniest; you could probably compare it to Northern California or Oregon, I guess. But it's pretty rad to see that the weather doesn't hinder us from having some fun. You should check out the Gwidel Log Fest; it's growing and showcases a lot of the local culture.

Q. How has the ocean, surfing, and photography shaped your community?

Yannick - I feel like Bretons all have something with the ocean. It helped me when I started surfing. I don’t mind chatting with strangers, so it helped me meet people sharing my passions. I am also a passionate person. I love to have passions and share them. So be it in flesh and bones or on the internet, I enjoy chatting with folks sharing those passions. Meeting and chatting with a bunch of folks on Instagram definitely helped me learn and feel connected about my passions. This is how I started chatting with amazing folks. Some I never met, some I will hopefully soon meet and a lot I met. We are coming to California in October, and I really cannot wait to connect with some folks over there. Being an internet kid, I feel like my community isn’t just local. And I kind of dig it. So, thanks for giving me the opportunity here.

Q. Can you share one of your favorite photos and the story behind it?

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Yannick - I took this one at Daydream last year. The light was just perfect, and it was such a delight to get to visit all those amazing places across California. But the reality of this picture starts a month before the trip. I was hoping to shoot the whole trip with my Leica M6. But due to some problems with it, I sent it for service and quickly learned I wouldn’t have that camera with me for the trip. I was in full stress mode to find a replacement for that camera. And decided to go with a Contax T3 I barely tested before the trip. I had a few scans on the day we left for California. I shot a lot during that trip, but that picture, I really wanted it to work. That light almost had me believe in God. It definitely felt supernatural. Also, all those gorgeous boards... Come on, there is a force bigger than us there.

But picking one is complicated. I have so many favorites. I could go over so many sweet moments in my collection.

Q. Any tips for someone planning a visit out to Brittany and hoping to get a surf in?

Yannick - I would say, take it as it comes; there will be time for surf for sure. But you’ll have to enjoy a lot of crepes, cider, and butter too! Connect with the locals; they are great! If you really want to be sure to see some swell, the Atlantic coast is your best friend. Whatever board you have, you’ll find places to enjoy it around here. Also, feel free to drop a line; I would happily help! And will happily join you somewhere for a chat, coffee, beer, or crepe!

yannick, brittany, france, first light surf club, spotlight, photographer, surfer, surfing, surf

Follow along Yannick's journey here.

Check out more of Yannick's photography here.

Photos of Yannick taken by Gregory Mignard.

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