Surfing the Severn Bore

It’s not every day you head to the river with your surfboard in tow, but when a bore comes rolling in, it’s a wicked place to be entertained by the local south west surfers. If you’re a local south west surfer, then surfing the Severn bore is definitely something to tick off your to do list.
This incredible natural phenomenon belongs to the River Severn, the longest river in the U.K. The Severn winds for approximately 220 miles from its source in Wales all the way to the Bristol Channel. Its estuary has one of the largest tidal ranges of any river in the world, only topped by the Bay of Fundy and Ungava Bay, both in Canada. On one single day the difference between its lowest and highest tides can be more than 14.5 metres.
It is this massive tidal range combined with a big spring tide and the estuary’s shape that allows the bore to come alive. As the tide rises, water is funnelled through the estuary that rapidly gets narrower and fluctuates in depth upstream. The tide pushes the river’s water in the opposite direction to the current and this allows a surge wave to form. The Severn is one of 8 places in the UK where bores occur and one of 60 throughout the world, the largest being the Ch’ient’ang’Kian in China, a beast, aptly nicknamed the ‘Silver Dragon’, that stands at some 7.5m tall.

We heard there was a 4* bore to take place at the weekend so we hit the road early doors on Saturday to suss it out and decided to take it on the next day. We got in with our boards at the Anchor Inn in Epney, only a 40-minute drive from Bristol. The outgoing tide pulled us to into position and we stood in water only waist deep for half an hour, waiting for the tide to turn and the arrival of the bore. We all felt that nervous kind of excitement and got some great advice from Stuart Matthews, a Severn Bore veteran.

At around 10.40am, we saw (and heard) the wave hurtling around the corner towards us and got ready. When it caught up with us it was a wall of white water and it pushed us a surprisingly fast pace upstream. It was pretty bumpy due to the wind, which knocked a few of us off but Kai made it through past the pub. Getting out was the tricky bit as the tide continues to rise pretty quickly for another hour or so after the bore has passed and the water is still rushing upstream. So you have to paddle quite furiously to get to the bank, grab on to whatever you can and get your board and yourself out of the water pretty sharpish, without getting tangled up in any logs or debris flowing by.

All in all, the Severn Bore was a wicked experience! Maybe next time, we can beat Steve King’s world record – he rode it for a seriously impressive 9.25 miles back in 2006.

Check it out and get riding next time it comes around – you can find loads of handy info on bore dates, good spots and safety from the Severn Bore website and see some great pictures and videos on their Facebook page.

Here are some of the pictures from the day:

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