Nautical leisure activities : and what if we were at the end of a cycle ?

12 Avr. 2019 | Analyses VISION, Nautisme, Prospective, Sports nautiques


These days, the way in which we connect with the sea through leisure activities is fairly recent. In fact, it’s a constantly changing relationship and as such is worthy of ongoing observation, analysis and consideration. In France, these activities were marked early on by prestigious “influencers”: Alain Gerbault, Bernard Moitessier and Eric Tabarly. Sailing – and this is a good thing – has carved out a prominent place for itself, more so perhaps in our imaginations than in reality (the weight of the motor boat being considerably more important). It’s our opinion, our belief, that this culture still bears substantial sway and shapes our desires (through various “symbolic notions” like living on board or Olympism…). Today, whilst wondering what tomorrow’s practices will bring, alternative ways of heading out to sea are returning to the forefront. Lighter, more hedonistic and, in short, more accessible.


Maritimity, a term used by Françoise Péron and Jean Rieucau, is a neologism that refers to the variety of ways in which we approach the sea, on the nature and evolution of ties that once united human societies with marine and littoral environments, and which continue to do so today. Along the coastlines of industrialised countries, marine activities (fishing, naval construction, cabotage), are crisis stricken or undergoing redevelopment. However, the more recent enthusiasm for all things ‘maritime’ has become a genuine societal phenomenon, and through the process of globalisation and developing awareness, the sea and the coast have now become everybody’s business. 

source: Geography and Culture review

The following excerpt is from the site Cross Channel Atlas. For more than 15 years now, the Cross Channel Atlas – Channel Space, presents and helps to understand a major maritime cross-border area. It’s the fruit of a joint Franco-British scientific initiative recruiting multi-disciplinary binational teams from universities and the CNRS.
To reflect on maritimity, is to understand how mankind integrates, perceives and works with the sea, the foreshore, the coast… It’s a reflection between past and present. The understanding of these relationships involves analysis of the local economy, without neglecting the cultural and ideological aspects that are of elemental importance in the analysis of any given territory’s maritimity.

Recently, a new sensitivity towards the ‘maritime’ has developed. After years of crisis, a nascent maritimity is emerging along with new kinds of societies. We see this expressed through the growth in nautical sports and water-gliding activities (windsurfing, surfing, speed-sailing), cruises, maritime museums, marinas, big regattas… water takes on a whole new status in European harbour towns: urban planning over the last ten years has turned towards the sea, a fresh feature in the urban landscape. Lorient, Brest, Dunkirk, Saint-Nazaire, Liverpool, Anvers… all are interested in reconquering port zones (redevelopment of docks, opening up of the town centre onto the isolated port area…). Overlooked during the 70s and the 80s, the sea recovers its position to become an important element of urban planning for towns in search of their identity.

Cross channel atlas

It’s the reason why this is a recurring topic at Codezero, ever since our first publications on the matter at the start of 2014. Our work is also based on twenty-five years of immersion (!) as conscientious enthusiasts, professionals and observers.

To illustrate this new reflection, you’ll find two videos from the American brand BOTE. The idea is not, of course, to imply that the big stand up paddle is the future of mankind, but to illustrate the differences and to document an “ultra-light” approach to water. As different as they both are from each other, we love the statement, the style and the tone of these two films, and several themes or common threads emerge:

  • the season
  • the place
  • the activity (fishing, underwater hunting)
  • the ocean and navigation (means of access to the sea)
  • equipment (the material required for different activities)
  • the human aspect, the community, sharing values


What we generally refer to as “water sports” or “nautisme” in France, is a culture largely dominated by sailing, and we evoked the objective grounds for this at the beginning of the article. Although water-gliding activities encountered much success in the 80s and have become an established practice in their various forms (surf/windsurf/kitesurf and now stand up paddle), they are not necessarily taken very seriously, particularly as their economic impact is marginal. Water-gliding as a trend, committed a number of mistakes and finally disappeared altogether from “nautical” trade shows like Paris, La Rochelle or Cannes, as did sailboats and other activities such as kayaking or diving. Note that all fishing-related elements, are also nominally present due to our maritime culture being so segmented. Today, French and European attitudes to the sea are evolving. Imagination and technology are even leading towards the diminution of the “vessel” or of the interface between the human and the sea; monocoque, catamaran (70s), windsurf (80s), kitesurf (90s), and nowadays (2000s) stand up paddle and even foil (2010s). Even the body may regain some importance. Guillaume Nery suggests just that with apnoea, it’s about time we realised that the act of swimming comes down to something other than lengths in a pool. Just look at the development of Swimrun or the Swimming Outdoor Society in England.
Furthermore, changes in ways of life and to the climate are going to become more and more prevalent in the debate.

  • spending power
  • mobility in its broadest sense
  • the mutation of leisure activities
  • the pyramid of ages
  • the weight of infrastructures
  • the ecological impact of different activities

All of the above, combined with a sports and leisure activities offer that has grown considerably since the 70s, will change absolutely everything.


Take a look at these two extracts with fresh eyes. For the moment, the stand up paddle is seen as a ‘simple’ beach contraption. In the space of two years, it’s even become the object of a low price war. This bigger hybrid model, which can have a motor attached, currently doesn’t stand a chance of being developed in France, mainly because culturally speaking its position will not be understood, not envisaged, not even accepted. The ‘regulars’ and other pundits will say that it’s too small, not appropriate for swells, dangerous, etc… and yet the second video could have been filmed in the Bay of Morbihan, the Glenans, around Chausey or between Hyères and Porquerolles.

If we needed to make a list of keywords, or of the values conveyed in these two films, it would look like this:

  • winter, ice, cold, waves, surfing, neoprene, the game, fishing, the coast, friendship, culture, love for your home spot, the outdoors, exploring, underwater hunting, the town, commuting, the community

for the second video:

  • summer, heat, the sun, exoticism, fishing, Florida, a tattooed guy, a map, portraits, women, the ‘Grand Banks’, an alternative view of authenticity, fishing, a bearded guy, a big SUP, motor boats, the mangrove, dreadlocks, smoke, smiles, sharing and… micro adventure.

All of this is transposable to France, desirable even, we believe there are many people out there who could identify with it. Maritime culture today is multiple and cross-border, it’s just a matter of cultural ‘formatting’ that prevents it from gaining ground. Things could change. Today and tomorrow the sea will conjure up sailing, surfing, kitesurfing, fishing for sport or not, apnoea, underwater hunting, stand up paddling, (close) exploration, coastal raids in minimalistic mode taking care to make little impact and using intelligent mobility, kayaking, the pirogue, swimrunning, nearby.

The sea of tomorrow, means an outdoor spirit…

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