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Wheels & Waves 2017 Report: The Best Yet, Six Years Later

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
A banner hung outside the ArtRide exhibition stated: ‘You are not in France, you are not in Spain; welcome to Basque Country.’ At this sixth iteration of Wheels & Waves, the sign should have read ‘Southsiders Country,’ as 20,000 guests of this festival of surf/moto culture invaded the sleepy town of Biarritz, filling all the hotel rooms, Airbnbs, and camping spots, plus every bar with a sidewalk.

The Basque region isn’t a hotbed of alt.custom culture, and is a long way from Paris, Berlin, or Milan—where you’ll find the majority of European custom shops. But a surprising number of folks ride to the event, on everything from vintage Brough Superiors and MV Agustas to the latest hyper-café custom Ducati.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
They come, I think, as much for what isn’t at W&W—no obnoxious branding, no OEM industry hard sell—as what is; a mellow, carefully curated series of exhibits, races, and rides.

“Our event is about motion,” is the mission statement of Southsiders MC founder Vincent Prat, chief of the triumvirate (with Jérôme Allé and Julien Azé) who organize this legendary festival. You’ll need motion to see it all; most of the highlights are an hour’s ride from Biarritz, except ‘the village’ at the Cité de l’Océan—a series of military tents stretching from this waveform cultural center to Milady beach.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
Prat cut back on stalls by 30% this year, to keep the quality high for clothing, scarf, bag, board, and bike vendors; there wasn’t much overlap in the offerings, and what was present was really nice stuff, if not cheap.

The indoor cinema screened fresh material like Sugar & Spade and Crystal Voyager from 1972—a legendary George Greenough film, the first shot inside a wave, with Pink Floyd’s Echoes as the soundtrack. A big stage held live music afternoons and evenings, and the skate ramp was always busy—with legends like Steve Caballero (below center) dropping in at random.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
Wednesday’s ‘El Rollo’ flat track race at San Sebastián’s Hipódromo was quadruple the size of last year, with a mix of serious competitors and sloppy day-racers. The races were short enough that it wasn’t a mess, and the mix of machines ranged from the new Indian 750s (currently dominating professional races), to vintage Trackmaster specials with Triumph or BSA power.

We must all bow towards Sideburn mag for defibrillating this sport; proof again the custom scene is the lifeblood of the motorcycle industry today. Also refreshing; the mix of age and sex of the competitors, from gnarled vets to fresh young things like Zoe David on her Trackmaster pre-unit Triumph T100.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
Thursday is the official opening day of the ‘village,’ and in the evening another ride to San Sebastián is required for the ArtRide exhibition, held on three floors of an old fish-packing warehouse in Pasaia. It’s a mix of fresh custom and vintage bikes, photography and other art, and film/performance.

An enormous montage of vintage MX and surf photos, plus surfboards and suspended racing Velocettes from the mid-1960s, was an homage to Richard Vincent, a surfer/racer from Santa Barbara. He was best friends with George Greenough, who filmed his racing, while Richard filmed him surfing.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
With professional equipment, Richard Vincent documented an ideal SoCal life, which was dramatically halted by the draft. He was badly wounded in Vietnam, and his bikes, boards, photos and films sat for 50 years. Wheels & Waves was their first exposure since 1967; a short film about Vincent was screened beside them, The Ended Summer by David Martinez (full disclosure; exec produced by The Vintagent).

The Punks Peak hillclimb (an uphill sprint bent in the middle) has spawned a host of imitators, so the ‘El Chupito’ race spices up the pre-’50 to Powerbike mix of racers. Costumes are required to race your 50cc demon, and this year the theme was ‘Superheroes.’

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
All sprints should be done in costume! Especially as sprints grow faster and more serious annually. A few dirty tricks were played, like loosening clutch lever pivots, and one rider seemed hell-bent on forcing his matches off the road—fine but for the barbed wire fencing. One walkaway crash and some hairy moments didn’t dampen things, and the premier event was won by the German former 250cc GP rider Katja Poensgen on an Indian Scout (below)—proving women riders rock hard.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
Saturday is the all-day DIY ride out into the Pyrénées, and clumps of riders criss-crossed the mountains all day, semi-lost. But with perfect weather this year, nobody complained. The views and snaking roads through thousand-year old stone villages, plus the inevitability of a great Basque lunch, make this ride a highlight, and the reason many return to the area.

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017
Back at the village, a casual display of exceptional new customs dotted the field, parked without display cards. Which made photo IDs difficult, but added to the casual feel and implied they were actually ridden.

Clearly, as Vincent Prat stated, Wheels & Waves isn’t about the show, it’s about the go.

Wheels & Waves | The Vintagent | The Vintagent Facebook | Images © Mihail Jershov of MJ Studio | MJ Studio Facebook

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017

Report: Wheels and Waves 2017