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‘It’s quite inspiring to see the community in Hossegor. People are really just following their passion in life.’

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Photo>>>Lea Gsimbsl

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Feature by Feature by: Divya Bala; Exceptional ALIEN in partnership with Wasted Talent

The Brit-born, France-based founders behind Wasted Talent, Ben Snowden-Boyd and Alexei Obolensky are redefining surf culture and coastal cool.

“Surf isn’t just doobie-smoking bros down the beach anymore. It’s grown-up. Educated. Traveled,” outlines the Wasted Talent manifesto. Founded by Liverpool-born, Hossegor-based Ben Snowden-Boyd and Cornwall-born, Biarritz-based Alexei Obolensky, (the two French towns are about a 30-minute drive apart) the retail space meets café, meets publishing house and creative studio, has drawn together a new, global, more grown-up kind of surf community to the shores of southern France. Far from groms and kooks, we talk to Wasted Talent about the low-key, yet surprisingly chic spots to wind down in after a day on the Bay of Biscay.

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On creativity and childhood

BB: When I was at school in Liverpool, the things I always excelled at were graphic design, art, playing music. I was introduced to skiing and snowboarding when I was really young and it became the passion I lived for as a teenager. I ended up instructing in Mammoth, California for a while. When I came back to the UK I went to Leeds to do a creative degree in fashion design. I ended up putting the snowboarding part of my life and design part of my life together, and that was my entrance to the industry. It got me a traineeship at Rip Curl, which was half in the Alps, in Annecy, and half in Hossegor. I had never been here so when we came here for six months, it blew me away. 


AO: I grew up in the UK, in the southwest in Cornwall, and then studied in Newcastle, which is right in the north. There’s a lot of surfing in Cornwall, surf schools and stores and surf hire — very much my first contact with the sport of surfing and not so much the behind-the-scenes, like the brand side of it. But I was always really drawn to that brand side. We had a cool surf shop in our village and I’d work washing wet suits to save up for T-shirts and shorts. There was always a kind of allure for that side of the industry for me.


On finding creative community far from home

BB: My experience finding community in Hossegor has mainly centered around Wasted Talent recently, because we’re really fortunate to work with the best surfers, skaters, photographers, filmmakers, artists, even people from the surf industry’s business world — they all have passed through the doors [of Wasted Talent]. It’s quite inspiring to see the community here, it’s really young, mostly. People are really just following their passion in life. I’ve been here 17 years, almost, and I’ve found that the people you meet can be from anywhere and they’re all drawn for one thing, and it’s the wave. 


AO: When I first moved here 10 years ago as an intern, I knew no one, and I used to go to this pub called Le Newquay, which is named after a town where I’m from in the UK, and I used to sit there and drink alone, hoping to meet friends — and I didn’t meet anyone! But now I have a really nice, wide group of friends. People come and go here a lot, but there’s a really nice group of locals and it’s really international. For a small, seasonal, coastal seaside town it’s actually pretty diverse and multicultural. 


Through Wasted Talent, Ben Snowden-Boyd and Alexei Obolensky have brought together a buzzing community of artists, filmmakers, photographers, skaters and of course, surfers. Now, their new boutique-cum-café-cum-creative studio provides the perfect meeting place for these creatives to gather. Photos of the Wasted Talent store in Hossegor, and portraits of Ben (left) and Alexei (right), shot by Lea Gsimbsl.

On the journey to Wasted Talent

BB: When I was younger, I traveled Australia with my now wife in a camper van and we were ready to move there. Then Rip Curl offered me a job in this place [Hossegor] that was like, an hour-and-a-half flight from home. When I left Rip Curl, I started a mobile coffee van. I had this old vintage Citroën H, and whilst I was doing that van, I met Alex. Honestly we just used to pitch up on quiet days and I’d persuade him to stay with free coffees, and we’d talk about what you could do differently with the industry. By the end of a year, we had a fairly good vision of what we wanted to do. One day, I got a phone call, rankly hungover in bed, from someone who wanted to buy this coffee van business. A month before, Classic Cars magazine had done a piece on me, and he saw the piece and somehow found my number and called me. He basically said, ‘Name your price’, and so that’s when I called Alex to say, ‘You won’t believe this, I’ve got some money, we could actually put this thing into play’. And it all rolled on from there.

‘We’ll shoot content for brands and we seek out stories that haven’t been told — stories of meaning.’

On building the brand

AO: I was always really into the business side of things and branding, clothing and fashion, and seeing that progress from the sort of, early 2000s fluorescent logos to what is now a much more muted affair. I was really lucky, I got an internship at an Australian company called Insight based in Biarritz, the same owners as Ksubi, so they had this fashion-surf crossover going on. After that, I just stayed in France. I worked for another brand for a while and then started in distribution, moving into the marketing side. Now we don’t lay a finger on distribution, it’s purely marketing, which isn’t without its challenges, but something we really enjoy is the store side of things.

On Wasted Talent and travel

AO: We’ll shoot content for brands and we seek out stories that haven’t been told — stories of meaning. For example, we’ve taken a surfer from France who was born in Lebanon during the Civil War and while he was being born, the shells were raining overhead, and he hadn’t been back to surf there. We waited for a year to score some swell and we scored some waves just outside of Beirut [to shoot him in]. 


BB: I’ve always loved traveling and now, with what we do, we’re super lucky. We try not to be blasé about it but we get to go to amazing places and pitch and conduct these projects in parts of the world where otherwise, I’m not sure I’d be able to go physically and financially — some of these places are quite hard. When we are fortunate enough to go, we’re shooting with a local crew so we’re instantly tapped in. And from that, having friends across the world is epic.


Drawing on the talents of their creative community, Wasted Talent chases stories of meaning that otherwise would not be told, from Lebanon to Hawaii, France, Amsterdam, Australia and California. These stellar stories are then shared in their own magazine and also inspire new projects and brand collabs. All images courtesy of Wasted Talent.

On what’s in your carry-on to stay entertained

BB: A good book and my headphones, and that’s honestly it. After having a kid, the time you get on a long haul flight is my time to sleep. I just bash through a load of movies, whatever is on the plane. I always have a Bloody Mary and a glass of red wine and go to sleep. 


AO: I’d take The Basque History of the World which is really interesting. It’s the complete Basque history, which is fascinating because it transcends French and Spanish history. This other book I’d take, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, which is his story on the Spanish Civil War. I would probably download Interpol’s Turn On The Brights album, I never really get bored of that. And then a trashy series — Line of Duty, a UK crime series. I quite like Scandinavian crime series as well.

‘I’ve enjoyed being in places all over the world and seeing people wear the stuff that we made.’

On moments of professional growth

BB: One of the biggest was seeing this new store come to life. Feeling proud that we did the work. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time and we did a lot of it ourselves, so seeing it come together, look great and people coming in for the opening party, seeing people engage with it. And the 10th issue of the magazine was a big one, that we got that far.


AO: I would say I’ve enjoyed being in places all over the world and seeing people wear the stuff that we made. I was in a hotel recently in Switzerland and there were people wearing our stuff in the hotel, and the manager told me they based their store on our store, and that was cool.


On taking surfing to the world

AO: We’ve been helping these kids in Senegal get surf boards and wetsuits, and we’ve been there a few times and shipped a bunch of boards and dropped them off personally. Seeing those kids riding old boards of ours or seeing someone drop a board in store then taking it over there is pretty cool.

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Just a 30-minute drive from one another, the laidback seaside towns of Hossegor and Biarritz make a solid surf pair. With Ben in Hossegor and Alexei in Biarritz, the duo tap into the region’s growing community of creatives and take stock of the unrivaled access to beaches, forests and mountains. All images by Lea Gsimbsl.

On the perfect morning in Hossegor

BB: I’d wake up early and come for a coffee at WAXED, which is a little coffee shop we’ve got here in Wasted Talent. They do amazing coffee, so kick off the day with that. In this perfect world, there’s sun and waves, so we’d head up with the family into the forest in the north, where there are a few hidden spots. You hike through the forest for half an hour and set up on the beach there for the morning. Catch some waves, play with my little boy and just enjoy the beach.

‘My finishing spot, which not many people know about, is a little hotel called Villa Seren on the edge of the lake and it’s a great spot to have a gin and tonic.’

On your ideal afternoon

BB: Pretty much like clockwork in summer, the onshore winds start around 12–1 pm, so it blows the surf out. By that point, you’re coming back out of the forest. So, probably get a spot of lunch somewhere around the lake in Hossegor. There’s oyster bars if you want to go fancy or there’s Le Mango Tree which does acai bowls, smoothies. And then, we’d head to one of the beach cabins, probably Bourdaines Beach, have a little drink in the afternoon, enjoy the sun. Then probably, my finishing spot, which not many people know about, is a little hotel called Villa Seren on the edge of the lake. It’s a great spot to have a gin and tonic and watch the sun go down, and it’s always quiet. And then home to bed by 10 pm, ready for an early start!

On your relationship with Hossegor

BB: It’s kind of my everything. It’s where my work is, where my family is — it’s where we actively chose to start a life. I really love this place, I can’t imagine myself moving from here. The schools are great, the lifestyle’s great. It’s funny because with Wasted Talent, [we’re] so busy during summer when people come to visit and the weather’s good. You find yourself really grinding through those months to make the most of it because it’s so quiet in the winter. I used to hate the winter but then, as we became parents and met a group of people who are here the whole time, winter’s become really nice.

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When he’s not on his board, Ben’s ideal day around the coastal city of Hossegor starts with a healthy bite at the beachside Le Mango Tree (pictured top row), followed by shopping at surf wear store Surfin Estate (pictured second and third rows) and tacos for dinner at Mexiko (pictured fourth and fifth rows). All images by Lea Gsimbsl.

On the creatives you admire in Hossegor

BB: People that inspire me are generally doing their own thing and not chasing any trend. There’s an artist here, Mike Mailman, who’s been doing his art — he worked for Volcom back in the day when they kicked off their graphic design. He’s continued the same style of art — it’s comic book, it’s really ironic, it pokes fun at a lot of the stereotypes of this place. I love that he doesn’t deviate for a trend, he just does what he does.

‘I always put on ‘Universe’ by Teebs and it says something for me about what life used to be and what it can be and it makes me think I’m lucky to be where I am.’

On creatives that inspire you in Biarritz

AO: I’m inspired by the guys we work with, especially Carles Medina who is a photographer and fashion designer from San Sebastian. He’s super tapped into that scene in Barcelona and takes amazing photos.

On a window or an aisle seat

BB: I love this question because of who Alex is — he's the biggest plane geek you have ever met. And he's like, in his element at any airport or on the tarmac of any runway. So I'm never allowed the window seat, even if it might say my name on it. Whenever I’m with him, I’m in the aisle seat but yeah, I would take the window.


AO: Yeah, always a window seat. I’ll always change or find a way. When I was younger, my father had a pilot’s license and every weekend we’d go flying together and I absolutely loved it. I’d fly the plane and we’d go all around England and France and the Channel Islands. As a young child I was deeply into planes. I did my whole final year at university on aviator management and wrote my thesis on it.


Just down the highway from Hossegor is Biarritz — Alexei’s adopted home. Here, he finds happiness in the easy pace of life, framed by the town’s historic Belle Époque architecture infused with a youthful edge. Pictured here are the Rocher de la Vierge (top row and second right), Le Port des Pêcheurs (second left), La Grande Plage (pictured third row), the streets of Biarritz (pictured fourth row) and Bistrot Les Halles (pictured bottom row). All images by Lea Gsimbsl.

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On music that reminds you of Hossegor

BB: It’s less about the place, but it sticks in my mind as something about those early mornings around the lakes or in the forest, I always put on ‘Universe’ by Teebs and it says something for me about what life used to be and what it can be, and it makes me think I’m lucky to be where I am.

On music that reminds you of Biarritz

AO: There are two songs. One is called ‘Roche’ by Sébastien Tellier and in that song he’s actually talking about dreaming of Biarritz in the summer. And the other is ‘C’est La Vie, Lily’ which is by an old French singer Joe Dassin, I believe, which is quite classic.

On Hossegor in one word

BB: Chill. 


No one’s grinding. Even if they are, they appear not to be. Whenever you ask anyone, even at the busiest point of the year, they’re just chilling, you know.


On Biarritz in a word (or two)

AO: Home? No, understated elegance. Youthful elegance.

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Ben SNOWDEN-BOYD

& Alexei OBOLENSKY

‘It’s quite inspiring to see the community in Hossegor. People are really just following their passion in life.’