The Severn Bore

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The Severn Bore is an astonishing natural wonder that has been ridden by surfers since 1955. Watch a clip from the BBC One series, Coast to learn more.

The Severn Bore is a unique phenomenon that occurs when a large tidal surge pushes sea water up the Severn Estuary and into the River Severn or Afon Hafren as it's known in Welsh.

The Severn Estuary has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world at 49 feet - the difference between high and low water.

The shape of the estuary - an ever narrowing funnel as well as the length and gradient of the sea bed are unique factors which combine to produce the Severn Bore.

The tidal wave travels upstream for roughly 22 miles until it reaches Gloucester and has been ridden by surfers for at least six of them.

The first man to surf the bore was the legendary Colonel, "Mad" Jack Churchill on July 21, 1955. Jack, a former WW2 commando was renowned for his bagpipe playing during battle as well as for his use of short sword and long bow. He later discovered surfing and designed his own board to ride the bore with.

Contrary to popular belief, the bore occurs regularly each month but the biggest 4* and 5* bores only occur in conjunction with large spring and autumn tides with south westerly winds adding extra height.

March, September and October are traditionally good months to surf the bore and it is these large bores which attract surfers from all over the world - all keen to try their hand at 'chasing the pig'.

The bore is best surfed on a nine to ten foot longboard. The extra buoyancy and length are necessary when attempting to surf a tidal wave.

The extra length makes paddling easier as the wave can vary greatly in size greatly - from half a foot to four feet high, depending on the contour and width of the river.

The extra buoyancy provides the stability needed when battling with 50 other surfers, all keen to catch the same wave. It really is a free for all, once the wave arrives.

You'll also get thrown around a lot on your way upstream, dodging a variety of obstacles as you go - from dead farm animals and trees to sections of boats, fridges and beer barrels. You name it, it all goes up the river at some point.

My 2008 bore attempt on a blue & orange board

Surfing the severn bore
Image courtesy of Mark Humpage

As the river shape changes, so does the bore and it's not uncommon to see what can only be described as an 'ocean wave' in places with a clean, rideable wave face that explodes along the muddy river bank so take care if you're a spectator.

Some surfers ride the bore at night, wearing head torches to find their way and it can be an eerie sensation hearing the bore roar past in the darkness as it surges along, taking everything in its wake.

Should you be unlucky enough to fall off or miss the bore on your first attempt - you'll have two more chances providing you're quick.

By exiting the river at Newnham on Severn and driving for around ten minutes, you can actually overtake the bore as it slows down through some of the wider sections of the river.

You then have just enough time to park up and run down to the next suitable spot at the Severn Bore Inn near Minsterworth. Here you can have your second attempt but it does tend to be very crowded.

Your third and final attempt is at Over or Maisemore bridges which can sometimes fill up and become too deep to hold a surfable wave.

Like most surfing locations, the river holds a few closely guarded secret spots where the bore is considerably better to surf.

Regular bore riders will tend to cross the fields and seek out these locations and avoid the better known, more crowded spots.

I've surfed the bore twice now - in 2006 and 2008 and it was an amazing experience. My second attempt was by far my best, with a ride of around one and a half miles.

It certainly tests your surfing skills and there is little room for error. At times it feels as if you're hanging on for dear life.

The only downside comes afterwards; as you attempt to exit a fast flowing river via a steep, slippery bank with a nine foot longboard under your arm!

If you're interested in surfing the bore then use a tide timetable which indicates how good each bore will be, with a star rating.

Article written by Martin Aaron with additional information supplied by bore aficionado - Neil Law.

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