How many surf spots are there where you can catch the same wave three times or more, and rack up minutes of ride time?
The tidal bore wave that periodically rolls up the River Severn, through the countryside on the English and Welsh border, definitely provides one of the more charming facets on the periphery of the surfing world. Often garnering more attention from the mainstream media than the surf media, the Severn bore is also at the centre of continual conflicting environmental arguments regarding the decades old proposal to build a £20bn barrage across the estuary to provide a renewable source of energy. With legal requirements for 15% of the UK’s electricity needs to be met by renewable sources by 2020, a barrage would account for a healthy 15% of this.
But this is counterbalanced by the resultant flooding of protected wetlands and bird habitats, the enormous time scale required to neutralise the projects carbon footprint (some eighty years), issues concerning salmon spawning on the river, the silting up of the river and the cost of sediment wear on the turbines.
The movement of the tide and its bore wave up and down the estuary and river has been described as “Gloucestershire breathing in and out”. A barrage would draw an end to this.
A friend once described his bore surfing experience to me as “a small chubby wave, sheep poo and real ale”…I was intrigued so decided to go see for myself, driving three hours inland against all my natural instincts - to go surfing.
Roughly once a month, for a few days at a time either side of the spring high tides, cars stop on bridges and spectators line the river banks to watch a motley crew of surfers and the odd kayaker slide down the muddy, slimy river bank into the water to await the surge of the tide. One wave every twelve hours, or near enough – sometimes there are two or three waves making up the head of the tide, but whichever way you look at it, if you miss it you’ve got to wait a long time for the next chance. Probably one of the rare occasions that you’ll get apprehensive as a waist high line of whitewater approaches. The wave itself exhibits different characteristics on different stretches of the river, sometimes just a rolling whitewater wave and sometimes throwing up shoulders and sections to turn off where it hits shallow stone ledges or sand banks, much as waves do in the ocean.
In fact, the novelty value is probably part of the appeal. Length of ride can be several miles, the record being eleven miles on a single wave - ridden by Steve King, the local bore maestro who’s missed only a handful of tides in the past thirty-odd years. It’s no high performance wave, granted, but it’s a charming and mildly eccentric weekend of surfing a long way removed from the regular scene back on the beaches. Everybody’s friendly and pleased to see each other, keen to share stories, a pint and a wave. When there’s only one every twelve hours, party waves become de-rigour and it’s all about distance covered and the width of smiles shared.
The next tides of sufficient height to produce a bore wave are next weekend, with a 9.8m high tide on the morning of Friday October 8th and a 9.9m high tide on the morning of Saturday the 9th. Why not get yourself to Gloucestershire and go surf something a bit different?
Images from the top down are:
Mick Jardine and Matt Boon waiting for the bore to arrive in knee deep water at Newnham.
Mick on wave number one of the day, warming up ready to give it a go on a shortboard further upstream.
Silty, slimey feet from river bank scrambles.
Trying to find the river down country lanes and farmers fields.
The one that got away...Matt has a head cam on here and the plan was for both of us to capture a shot of Mick blasting his fins through the roof at this secret stone ledge. The longboarder enjoying the empty shoulder here jostled him out of position though which is pretty crucial on a tiny 6'1" in a freshwater river. Oh well, maybe next month hey.