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Water sports in France - statistics & facts

The waves of the Atlantic beaches, the wind of the Breton coasts, the gorges of the Ardèche river, and the 2.5 million private swimming pools are all playgrounds for water sports lovers in France. Water fans from all walks of life are numerous in France. In 2018, 20 percent of French people said they had practiced an aquatic activity during the last 12 months, far ahead of team or combat sports.
However, practices are as diverse as there are beaches in France. Formerly confined to swimming, rowing and sailing for decades, the arrival of new "Californian" sports such as surfing has turned the practice of sport in France upside down and has won over a new public, far from the governmental and institutional framework.


Just like almost all outdoor sports, the surfers' playground does not need any structure. Few material constraints have hampered the development of this activity in France. Emerging on the Basque Coast in the 1950s, surfing has long been a marginal practice, reserved for a few enthusiasts. Although the French Surfing Federation was created shortly after, in 1964, the number of members has stagnated for several years, around 15,000, and remains low compared to the total number of surfers at 680,000.
However, although the practice is autonomous, learning in France is often supervised by instructors trained by the French Surfing Federation and the Ministry of Sports. The training of individuals and tourists was the main activity of surf instructors, far ahead of training in a surf club.
The inclusion of surfing as an Olympic sport in 2016 and its upcoming appearance at the 2024 Olympic Games could well change the national landscape in the coming years.

Sailing, a French passion

Every four years the Vendée Globe single-handed round-the-world race takes place. This national event brings crowds to the docks of Les Sables-d'Olonne. Since its creation, the speed record was beaten at each new edition, except in 2021 when Yannick Bestaven did not manage to beat Armel le Cléac'h's record of 74 days. The appeal of the open sea is present among the French as well. In 2020, France registered nearly one million pleasure boats, including 200,000 sailboats. Nearly half of boats were registered in harbour in Brittany or the Provence-Alpes-Côtes-d'Azur region. A heterogeneity that is also found in the number of clubs where it is still these last two regions that have the most, far ahead of the other coastal regions of the Atlantic or the English Channel.

Teaching the French to swim

In 2018, Edouard Philippe's government relaunched the plan to fight against drowning. In France, every year, many French people drown on the coasts, in lakes or swimming pools (public and private). That same year, the number of patients admitted to emergency care due to drowning was over 800. The most effective way to fight against drowning is to teach French people to swim, and at any age. In 2016, only 60 percent of French people over the age of 65 knew how to swim, compared to 95 percent of 15-24-year-olds. The French Swimming Federation is a stakeholder in this training program. In 2019, the number of members increased sharply from approximately 310,000 to 360,000.


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