Born exactly at the same time in 1950, in Casablanca, Morocco, with just 10 minutes difference, Emmanuel et Maximilien, spend three happy years in this beautiful country, but don’t remember a lot, except for the exotic smells and the heat.
Then, they left for two years to Egypt in Alexandria. They enjoyed the real Arabic desert and a few pyramids, and spent two more years in Lebanon where their father directed a research centre.
They were living near Beirut, close to the mountains, in a beautiful village. Sometimes, they got to enjoy Saint Simon, the main beach of Beirut to have a swim. In those times, this town was rich and beautiful, even a lot better than Monte Carlo. The Mediterranean is not flat like everybody thinks. The local beach boys were playing on big hollow boards (something like 17’), made on frames and rib bands with plywood and painted canvas. They were surfing standing, with a double paddle. It was possible to surf with a friend or a girl.
It is funny to think that Laird Hamilton reinvented that type of surfing fifty years after. In 55, when the twins were only five years old, they had their first surf experiences on what is now known as a SUP, a standup paddle board.
Our initial post was a good teaser, just to get some facts in a row, but there were a lot of missing pieces. Now we present the uncut story. It reads like a movie script!
At seven, we came back to Paris because our father was nominated as Professor in the “ College de France”, ( The oldest college of the world, where the 40 “best” professors of France are teaching). Our come back to the civilisation was very tough, and we were the worst boys ever in school, except in design, music and gymnastics where we were the best ! Twins often have big problems in school...
Very early, we loved to make things by hand. We have shaped our first sailing boat in a piece of oak at 8, and never bought a pre-shaped model in a box . We started photography on an old 6X9 bellows camera. Life in Paris, was a dream. As our grand mother was living on the coast, in Contis, the small village of our family, 50 miles north of Biarritz, we spent all our vacations (4 months) in her old house.
In 1960, everybody was scared by the ocean, and the rips. The beach was like a beautiful desert. Our brother Augustin was friends with the two lifeguards who swam like dolphins in the big waves. He was 10 years older than us and inspired us, big time. The game was to swim outside and back to the shore, even in the rough seas. That's how we became very good swimmers. We bodysurfed, or we used a belly board made of curved plywood. But we never called it surfing.
At 14, or something like that, in 1964, Augustin had bought an American book: “Men who ride mountains” with Bob Cooper and Midget Farelly, and discovered Greg Noll and Eddy Aikau in LIFE magazine. We learned the word “SURF”.
In 1966 we saw “The Endless summer” on a big screen at “Les Champs Elysées” in Paris. We had a lot of books because of our father, and we read a lot, mostly about voyaging. We just adore adventure, famous explorers logbooks, Jules Vernes and Edgar Allan Poe! We were crazy about hand made powder, bombs and rockets, we just loved the fight between US and CCCP to go to the moon. One time, we nearly died in fire, because we had 2 lbs gun-powder in our pocket on our way to college, and it ignited! Since this day, we stopped to play with powder! We started making our own designed planes and boats, always dreaming of the ocean and the waves.
In 1967 we saw a real surfboard for the first time. An old German friend, had bought a 10 footer Barland Rott moulded Malibu. He lent us his board and we became the first surfers at Contis. The leg rope did not yet exist and so we had to swim, a lot. Then in 1969, we shaped our first surfboards. In those times, the boards were pretty big and we decided to make short boards. 2m X 0,5m must be enough! Square tail, twin fin, round nose… Very thick, enormous boxy rails, very sharp down… Really good boards with no tail rocker, to be as fast as possible…
At age 20, around 1970, we were the kings of the beach (which means kings of peanuts!), the courageous “Surfers”, different from anybody, and reading Surfer Magazine from time to time, the magazine was hard to find back then. Emmanuel was studying mathematics and physics, and Maximilien learned cinema, and later on, deep-sea diving. Emmanuel quit Paris to live in our little paradise, while Max was diving for oil in the North Sea.
We were not too bad looking and the early seventies were nice like a wet dream! After the pill and before aids! Living in a small garage under the dune, at a few meters from the beach, we founded our own surf club in 1973 called the “ Banzaï Pipeline” (we loved the style of Gerry Lopez) because we now had some friends surfing with us. We participated in our first French championships in 1975, but we disappeared in the first tour ! Our way of surfing was always to drop the biggest waves, not to make embroidery …
It was the time of freedom, sex, music, surf and above all: never work in summer. Sometimes, we drove down to Hossegor to surf when it was too big and closing out at home. Max was selected to dive for the world record 1672’ (510 m) deep in open sea for COMEX (this record still stands today), breathing Heliox, a mixture of Helium and oxygen, and the pressure 25 time higher than in a tire! That means a lot of money! And so, he was crazy in big surf, always alone to try to go out when it was pumping. Being really good swimmers, we have saved at least 50 people, each! Anyway, by December 1976, Max quit the Comex with enough money to go surfing and he bought an old big van.
The sea was huge and the wind was incredible strong during the next two weeks. Two big boats got shipwrecked in the same night on our local beach. Unbelievable ! They arrived only 0,5 mile from each other. One was a 70 000 ton tanker and the other a cargo ship, 400 feet long, stranded on the bottom of the dune, nearly dry ! It was too much ! Such an event only happens once in a lifetime! We had to go check it out!
So, the next low tide, by night, we decided to go onboard to have fun. Once onboard we couldn’t believe our eyes. We thought we were allowed to take anything on a shipwreck, as in our adventure books! So, we took a ton of everything : 42000 Dunhill cigarettes, tonnes of food, butter, gorgonzola, rockets guns, 150 bottles of Cognac Remy Martin, and a lot more… But it was very difficult to carry all those goods over the dune in a force 10 wind, and we had unknowingly made a track in the sand.
The police came, and caught us. Followed by a nice little “vacation” in jail and a lot of money to pay to the customs. On top of that, they found some friend's weed in our house, so we were also accused of dealing (impossible to say the truth, because of our sense of honour…) So, we got in trouble in our little village and lost our good reputation. We were no longer heroes of the beach, and sons of a famous professor.
July 77, we already were something like 25 surfers all together, all very good friends, and the next surfer on the horizon immediately became our friend. We met 4 good surfers in an old yellow van stuffed with surf magazines. Two Aussies, Greg Taylor and Barry Mc Grath, and 2 pommies, Julian and Danny, all coming from Perth, and we invited them immediately to eat with us under the dune. They surfed a lot better than us, and had real nice boards shaped by Cole Adams. We became friends, although they did not speak a word in French and we started to learn English. They were a bit boring, completely crazy about Mark Richard and Ian Cairns (we were more into Hawaiians like Gerry Lopez, Reno Abellira, Rubbermann…), talking about the power of Hawaiian waves, and saying all the time that French surfers were so bad and our waves also... So we had a big void between us, although we were good mates, and we learned a lot...
We know we had some huge waves in France, like 30’ or more, because we had always watched the sea with binoculars and big lenses, properly evaluating the distance of the break and the altitude of the eye … In September, we had such a marvellous big day in Hossegor and we went surfing the picture perfect "North outside Peak". It was really big, something like 20’ waves on the sets. On the top of the dune, it was impossible to see the horizon during the big sets… Nobody in the water… My brother and I paddled out first, with everybody staying on the beach, watching… We had a few vertical drops and we still remember how heavy it was, with bottom turns 30 yards after the drop. The thickness of the wave and the sound of the waves breaking were mind-blowing.
We are French Cartesians, we admired the big waves riders, but we always thought if Hawaiians can surf big waves, so can we!
To quote Larry Bertelmann: “Anything is possible !”
Jean-Claude, a rich friend working in USA came with a Hobie 16 and we started having good fun sailing in the waves … In late November 77, we decided to go surfing to the Canary Islands. (Now known as the Hawaii of Europe)
We took Greg, Barry, Julian and Danny with us and also two more French friends. So we were 8 in the van! The first day, we were so drunk that we nearly forgot our boards! We arrived in Cadiz and had a nice little surf near Trafalgar, waiting for the ferry. But somebody stole Julian’s board on the top of our van while we were eating. Bad vibes…
We did discover Confital in Las Palmas, a real beauty with top to bottom crystal tubes, but too crowded for our taste. So we went to Tenerife, with its 12198 feet Volcano and good surf in Punta del Hidalgo on the north shore. It was uncrowded except for a few very good locals.
Before surfing, my brother and I, went spearfishing and invited the locals to eat with us. So we never had problems with them… And they taught us to eat their traditional food, the “Gofio”, a pre-cooked corn, that you can mix with pretty much anything, milk, soup, wine, crushed bananas … It is very cheap and useful, perfect to keep you surfing the whole day long…
We then drove to the South Shore, in Los Cristianos, a perfect left close to las americas and, and all had a great time in the touristy city, full of pretty German and Dutch birds… We had our camp in a desert, very close to the wave, between the old Canarian village and Las Americas. In this time, 100 surf-freaks were living there, all together, smoking hash and living in the dust during winter time…
With Max, we were the first to surf Alcala, a little bay with his fantastic really powerful left hitting a 6 yards underwater vertical step (Anglos call this wave K16 now). Our pockets completely empty, we had a beautiful cutback 9 days on a ship back to France, incredibly cheap, aboard a banana cargo with the van on the deck.
Then, everybody disappeared to get money somewhere… In 1978, we were so poor, Jean-Claude proposes us to make fortune in the Persian Gulf, working for Arabs. The job would be to start up a business exporting very nice tiles made in France. J-C was a super merchant, already working in Saoudi Arabia, and we trusted him.
But here's the most interesting part: he bought a 33 feet sailing boat, and we had to get there by sailing his boat. During those days, there was no GPS and he wanted us to learn astronavigation, as we were really good in mathematics. We bought a book and learned to use a sextant, and all the resolutions of the terrible trigonometric formulas… Since those days, we became real astro-fanatics…
After surfing all summer, we started the trip in September, from Marseille to the Red Sea, trough the Suez canal… A few months after, we started a company in Jeddah, but we had a lot of troubles with Jean-Claude. He was simply boring, too much into money… So we came back to Paris in a frizzing cold March, without a penny in the pocket.
Max found a job as cameraman for a TV news channel, and I, started working in an iconic wine shop on the Champs-Elysées (I had learned oenology in Bordeaux to be closer to the surf). But very fast, we saw that it was impossible to stay in Paris, too far from the surf, and we decided to try to be surfer journalist and photographers.
In 1979, there was not yet one surf magazine in France, and we tried to write for a windsurfing mag. We already had a good portfolio, and they accepted our first article. And so, we became the first surf journalist and photographers in France.
Our way to speak about surfing was to talk about freedom, that surfing is cheap and for everybody, we wrote about surf trips and that the surfing way of life is the best… But we have made a mistake, we tried to make the photos only in France, to show to everybody how good and big it gets.
For the magazine, we had the opportunity to try the first new Hobie 18 coming in Europe. We took it out into the waves. Since that day, we wanted to cross the ocean with this fantastic toy and we tried to be sponsored by Hobie Alter, but he refused… Our articles were simply talking about our own surfing adventures and trips, like those of Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson… The magazine cut our story short, again, so we could not earn enough money to cover costs.
At the same time, we were designers at Barland to shape new prototypes in windsurfing. The fashion was 12’ boards, horribly thick and heavy, and we decided immediately that the good size must be 8 to 9’ max, a surfing shape, to ride the waves, not only jump…
A iconic French TV station showed interest and with some windsurf champs, we have covered the news, talking about these incredible fast boards. But one day, some Hawaiians (Mike Walze and others) came to Barland and said we were wrong. They made horrible jump boards with an enormous bump on a very wide square tail! Barland believed them because they were from Hawaii, and we, only Frogs…. It was so silly, we were incredibly disappointed and quit windsurfing and never saw Barland again …
A good friend gave us a big US army tent (like in the movie M.A.S.H), and we lived on the top of the dune in Contis, 6 month long. Paradise! 100% surf and love…
In September, Hossegor received all the best surfers of the World for the world amateur championship. We saw Terry Richardson, Mark Scott and Glen Rawlins but the best was the 14 years old flying Tom Curren! We tried to make a good reportage on it, but the mag chose to publish the shots from Sylvain Cazenave, documenting a big day in Waimea.
We went to Tenerife again, driving our old 2 CV Citroen for 4 months to make yet another article, but the magazine cut our story short and disappointed us, yet again, so we quit.
Now we were living off nothing, just some very short, shitty jobs, and we decided to make a surfing school for the grommets, so we could still surf and make a bit of money. It was good, but we realised that it would produce too much surfers. So we stopped the school. During the cold winter of 1983, we were living in an old destroyed Mobil Home like poor freaks and real ascetics. We realised that we were very free, but our poorness destroyed this freedom, everybody was talking bad about us. A very paradoxical life, as everybody thought that we were very rich.
We are now 33 years old and our brain started to run a lot, we were getting depressed... It cannot be enough for us to live like that! We can and must do something better! But we refused to take any more shitty jobs, just to survive. So, we decided to make a movie.
Because the sea is our speciality, it would be a super adventure in the sea. A sea crossing on a canoe… And to be interesting, we had to do a crossing like nobody had done before! The smallest boat possible, but also without life raft, no distress beacon, no radio, like in the olden days!
To earn a bit of money, we started to shape some surfboards, and at the same time, we started to built our boat in our old family-house...
We designed the Micromegas 1 without any calculations, just drawing the lines on a 5mm plywood, like shaping. The 16’ boat would be very small, a sort of raft, with 3 square hulls, a flat bottom and a net between. 3 big guns. As simple as it gets! Just a surfboat to take on strong winds and surf the big waves on open sea.
After only one month of work, the surfboat was nearly finished ! In march, we put the thing on the beach because we don’t have a port in Contis. Surfing all the time, living under the sky, we were black like Africans but also poor like them! We went fishing to have something to eat when the sea was not too rough. We had our first try sailing along the north coast of Spain, with a dog and 4 surfboards onboard, just in case…
We decided to sail to the Canaries the following summer. After only 2 days, we had a big depression right in the middle of the Gulf of Biscay, with very strong winds like force 8 to 9 and have lost our tiller… It was hell! But we surfed a lot of big waves, trying to escape in front of the wind, each one of us with a paddle. 4 days later, we were back home in Contis, happy to be alive. We never slept and we were horribly burned by the salt water. Of course, we had missed our target, but it was simply fantastic. We never had such a big feeling in the heavy surf! And no crowd up there! We felt stronger and invulnerable, like after a primitive initiation !
Finally, we succeeded to reach the Canaries 2 years later, with a beautiful German girl onboard. We explored the whole coastline, rock after rock, beach after beach, living one full year outside on the tiny net.
The boat was quite okay, but we were too poor again and really famished. We decided to stop our adventure as our 8 mm camera was out of order and our brain was destroyed. We needed to have a real job and forget our dreams of sailing for a few years…
We found a 6 months job in Berlin during winter, not very pleasant! But it was followed by 6 months of surfing in Contis during summer… During the winters, we always worked geometry, searching good lines to draw good rockers and templates, designing boats with a lot of geometry, programming on little pocket computers and dreaming about surfing and the sea…
In 1987, Danny bought a Bar and we had a fantastic summer. We were a lot of surf mates and the beers flew by barrels… “It’s always six foot offshore in the bar” !!! We were completely crazy. No sleep and too much surf. Really tired. Max had an heart attack while surfing and nearly died on a perfect day. It was terrible. The docs said : “Now, you have to live like an old man, super slow…” Impossible to listen to that! No way! Without any medicine, 8 days after the hospital, Max was again in the waves, moving like a slow jelly fish… We both had a terrible winter, he could not sleep, feeling his heart hitting in his chest, with horrible nightmares of death… I was feeling his worries as well, as twins do.
Those days, everybody had mostly 6’ boards. The next spring, we have made 2 big boards, a 8’6” for Max and a 9’ Malibu called “Moby dick” for me to go surfing again in a different way. More Zen, taking the power with you, never fighting against it… We started very progressive every day, and a few months we were again surfing 10 foot waves in the good conditions, taking advantage of a good channel to paddle out, taking all the big waves breaking on the outside. It took us at least 5 years to recover confidence and loose our fears …
We tried again to write for the brand new French “Surf Session” magazine. We had enjoyed a surf trip in Morocco with all of our friends and made an article about it. And yet another surf trip, this time in Portugal, during spring, but the mag destroyed our writing. Since the beginning, we always thought that a surf mag must be interesting for any reader, not only surfers, to be open for everybody. That it must talk about geography, about the beauty of the world, something like National Geographic, but with the surfing way of life and point of view…
After that article, we stopped writing. It was interesting perhaps to be the first journalists, but now with the surf fashion, it quickly became boring! They paid us not enough and very late, we decided never to work with the surf media again.
Finally, a luck break. The government in France was now "left" and we suddenly received a little bit of state-money because we were sick. With this money, we tried again to be normal, studying computing to get a normal job. But the call of the sea was too strong. We still had the “Go for it” mentality, and the normal working life doesn’t satisfy us at all!
At 42, we decided to chase our dreams, once again. Inspired by the famous Mickey Dora’s quote: “I have never worked in my life man!” and we were always thinking “We have only one life to live, we have to follow our dreams! Or life gets too boring to live, very quickly!” We did miss the crossing on a 16 footer, but we did not care much! This time, we will succeed on something even smaller!
Since 10 years, we were working on our own program to design boats and boards. With this program, we needed only 2 minutes to draw a boat, with all the displacements, the areas, the volume calculations! We draw a 13’ 8” little dory with a Lug-Yawl rig to make it a real classic boat. It would be a wooden masterpiece, specially made to be different to all the other adventurers who crossed the ocean on horrible floating buoys to break records… And also to show to everybody that we can be good marine carpenters … The aesthetic is fundamental for a surfer!
Two years after, Micromégas II was born in Barry Mc Grath’s garage , nice and perfect, shinning like a marvellous wooden toy ! Then we had a terrible first journey to the Canaries, caught by a big storm close to Madeira. In a force 8 consistent storm, with some sets 15’ to 20’ big, with 5’ white water on the top breaking …
With such a small boat, you were of course very slow, and we had terrifying super late takeoffs. It was so vertical that sometimes, we started the drop without water under the nose of our ridiculous toy and rock into the vacuum! Without radio, life-raft, GPS, distress beacon, such type of surf gives you serious vibes!!!
We missed reaching Madeira but went to Casablanca, and then Lanzarote a month later. Our good friend Greg Taylor was now working for Quiksilver and presented us in this company. Since this day, they helped us for our clothing.
The company ROLEX gave us also 2 Submariners as a gift, with “Micromegas expedition” engraved on it… The biggest French TV came to make a movie about these 2 crazy twins, and after 37 days, we reached the West Indies.
We came back to Paris to make a 13 pages in a big mag, and the cutting of our movie “Twins of the sea” with our rushes for an important TV channel. The money was not bad this time around…
The year after, we continued the expedition, visiting the coast of 100 different islands, all the way to Miami. We had never been flying or sailing on a real boat to the US, except on our 14’ wooden lugger without electronics!!! So we had reached America like nobody has done before us, even the best pirates of the 17th century!
We became quite famous in France, after many interviews for different TV and radios and we wrote a few more articles. We had the honour to be invited by Quiksilver for the Surfmaster festival in Biarritz. To show something of our work, we took a 17 ft wooden paddle board we had made. A pure masterpiece with 2500 copper nails on 25 frames, made with only 0.2” red cedar planks. A beauty!
After staring 15 minutes at the thing, Greg Noll said to us : “You must never go to the water with it, just put it in a museum!”.
Billy Hamilton also asked us to try our board and he said: “I promise, I don’t put wax on it !” We became good mates of Scott Dillon and Mark Cunningham who also tried the machine. A few days after, Midget Farelly and Mikey Dora came surfing with us in Contis and “The Cat” slept in our house…
A few days later, our dad died and let us some little heritage. But money is not enough to be happy. We wanted to do better!
We decided to cross the ocean like Phoenicians who sailed in the Mediterranean, 3000 years ago, or the Maoris in the Pacific, to understand more about seafarers and their antics.
We heard about the experiments of the Hokulea in Hawaii, but we wanted to do better, on a smaller boat, without any trick and no escort boat… This time, we designed a very light 21’ wooden proa, with a beautiful old fashion rig, a lugger schooner, in reference of old sailors of Brittany. We built the beauty, it took us two years of hard work, and we wrote a book of our crossing called “The mutineers of the sea”. A famous editor in Paris, Robert Laffont published it.
We became a lot more comfortable with our life. In the summer of 2002, we sailed to the Canaries to try our prototype with instruments. We had very bad seas along Portugal. One day, the wind was blowing, something like force 9, and we have had a rogue wave, so vertical that we nearly fell aside of the boat!
End of march, in 2003, we took the big take off on our 600 pound outrigger. The target was a very small island (La Desirade, only 2 miles wide) and we had to sail through a big 3000 nautical-miles wide water-desert. We had no compass, no watch, no sextant, no GPS, no radio, no log, no map, no book, no cooker, no radio receiver or transmitter, no star guide, nothing onboard ! And no sponsor to stay pure without stickers! On board, 90 litters of water in bottles, 90 tins of sardines, 35 lbs of gofio, 13 lbs of milkpowder, 17 lbs of sugar and… 30 bottles of Tabasco! We took an Argos beacon, to study our track after the expedition. Although we had 20 cloudy days bearing only with the wind and the swell direction, we succeeded to land on La Desirade, just watching the sky by eye, after 27 days!
We had some success in France, but really, not enough to pay all our expedition’s expenses. During 2 more years, we edited our new movie “Huis clos sous les étoiles” (“Inside Outside”). This movie won 5 big festivals and had success in San Francisco during the Ocean Festival, in Moscow and plenty of other places…
By now, we were 57 years old and we had built yet another boat, a real wooden dory inspired by Grand Bank working boats for Cod-fishing. The flat bottom is just a 18’ rhinochaser… There is no deck to live outside under the sky, and film the sea, the winds and life onboard, all together that's 100% of our shoots! We will try again to cross north Atlantic, to meet a lot of new friends and shoot a new film.
We are poor again, but still surfing, because that is our life.