Surfing A Tidal Wave – The Severn Bore
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”.
A river wave, THE river wave
Bore riding day.
A bore is a wave caused by a tidal river’s changing direction during flood tides. The tide turns, rushing toward the shore and gaining power as it’s channelled into a narrow river. Surfable waves are occasionally generated 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 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…
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 towatch the frothing wave bearing down on us. After a few minutes, which felt more like an hour, it was time to paddle out.
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.
Show time, the wave arrives
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. There was no rhyme or reason to it, just people shouting at one another as they did their best to navigate. 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.
Lying prone it felt like you were carrying some serious speed, slicing the choppy river water like a powerboat at sea, head down low. Stood up 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, farms and crowds metres from a surfboard.
One by one we found ourselves having drifted off the pace of the wave or unceremoniously dumped behind.
Scrambling back to shore
Getting clear of the Severn posed an entirely new challenge, having to escape a fast moving river with a 9-10ft log. 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.
Separated by the current, we had to find our own individual ways clear of the river and, for all the camaraderie throughout the day; this was the time for reflection. The contrast of noise between the crashing tidal wave and the back-country bird song on the walk back was astonishing. Wandering in solitude past garden gnomes and cows, 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…
Weird, new, easier than you think
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.
It’s easier to get involved in riding the Severn Bore than you might think. It’s not on an elite, inaccessible activity reserved for a certain calibre of person and it doesn’t cost the Earth. It’s just a muddy, natural phenomenon that happens right in our back garden. Free to all.
That said, I strongly advise that you get advice and support from experts before considering the bore. There’s a lot to learn! The link below is a great place to start.
Info and highlights of the Severn Bore: www.thesevernbore.co.uk
I took on the bore with a bunch of my colleauges at Vision Nine and posted this story on our company website. See the original here.