At 6am on Monday 3rd March 2014, 100 miles from home, four blokes forced breakfast on nervous stomachs and made for the “Severn Bore Inn”. It was bore riding day.
In short, a bore is a wave caused by a tidal river’s changing direction during flood tides. The tide turns, rushing toward the shore, gaining power as it’s channelled into a narrow river and occasionally generating surfable waves depending on the water height and the formation of the river bed.
The Severn bore is world renowned; it’s one of the most powerful tidal bores in the world and certainly one of only a handful that are surfable. It had been a long term goal for all of us to take on the challenge and there was a tad of pressure, to say the least…
Preparing For The Severn Bore
Before we’d even planned the trip we knew that surfing a bore wasn’t like catching a wave in a set; miss the first one and you’ve missed it. No second chances. We’re not talking about waiting another few minutes for the next one either, we’re talking months. Now standing, wet-suited in a backwater Gloucester pub car park, early morning frost nipping at our extremities and the deep rumbling of a far-off tidal wave approaching, the tension mounted. As crowds began to gather and a press helicopter appeared above we shot glances at one another and muttered our chorus. “Do. Not. Miss. This. Wave.”
Fortunately we had the help of a local chap called Steve (www.thesevernbore.co.uk) who brought with him a wealth of experience. Quite simply, we wouldn’t have managed a fraction of our success without his guidance and we’re ever grateful. Following Steve to the bottom of a treacherously steep stair set we paused on a concrete bank with our boards in hand and watched the frothing wave bearing down on us apace. After 10 minutes, which felt more like an hour, it was time to paddle out.
Lone Surfer On The Severn Bore
Apparently we’d picked a “5 star” day for the Severn bore. As surfers, we knew 5 star to mean the best possible conditions, at least when it came to ocean forecasts. In the relative calm of the pre-bore river water we chatted nervously on heavy breath, reflecting on our choice of wave, guessing its size and wishing each other well. All 20 or so people bobbing on rafts of all shapes and sizes fixed their eyes on the wave as it trundled on, gaining in size and speed as it came closer. The four of us broke into pairs and steadied ourselves. 5 star or otherwise, when “head height” was the surface of the water, she was a big wave; a thundering mess of brown-white water at the head of an unstoppable snaking tide.
The next few minutes passed in a blinding rush. We turned and paddled (needlessly with the sheer power of the thing), catching the wave with varying degrees of success. Surf boards clashed with kayaks, people and river banks. Some stood, some fell; the two most successful of our four went on for a mile or so, the least successful a few hundred meters. Nevertheless, there was a point in time when all four of our crew tamed the wave.
Actually riding the bore was a new experience; a powerful surging wave breaking over a thousand barriers along the river’s length; here it was a surfable shoulder, there churning whitewash, changing haphazardly every few meters. Surfing in such changeable conditions posed all sorts of new challenges as you could see in the river riding regulars as they popped to their feet and dropped low to their stomachs at intervals.
Wacky Races On The Severn Bore
Lying prone it felt like you were carrying some serious speed, slicing the choppy river water like a powerboat at sea, head down low. Conversely, when standing there was an air of serenity; time enough to talk to one another and appreciate the bizarre surroundings as they rushed by. It’s not every day you see trees, fields and farms from a surfboard, let alone cheering crowds!
They say all good things must end and surfing the Severn bore was no different. Sooner or later we found ourselves having drifted off the pace of the wave or unceremoniously dumped behind it.
It wasn’t until the time came that we were quite so aware of the logistics of escaping a fast moving river with 9-10ft longboards. Exit points rushed by punctuated by thickets of trees, logs, rubble and the occasional tractor tyre, not to mention the precarious mud banks. It was a case of paddling hard and gambling on whatever debris presented itself to haul ourselves back on to terra firma, man handling the boards in the process.
Crowds Around The Severn Bore
Eventually we each found a separate way clear of the river and, for all the camaraderie throughout the day; this was the time for reflection. Wandering in solitude past garden gnomes and through farmers’ gates, wetsuit-boots squelching and adrenaline still pumping, realisation kicked in. We’d all caught the wave! We could check the river Severn off the bucket list and now proudly call ourselves bore riders…
Overall it was an awesome, albeit other-worldly, experience. The complete unknown gave way to surfing in a truly unique and very English setting, with more support from locals than we could have dared to imagine.
I am proud to have taken on the bore with a bunch of my colleauges at Vision Nine and originally wrote this story for our company website. See the original here.