June 13, 2015

Five Insane Tidal Waves

The Pororoca tidal bore in Brazil. Photo by S. Rojas.

Believe it or not, there are a few places around the world where tidal waves wreak havoc upon shorelines sometimes twice every day! These aren’t the deadly Tsunamis you’re thinking of, but rather a phenomenon caused by extreme tidal fluctuations. These tidal waves are called Tidal Bores and they can produce powerful waves that allow surfers to cruise for miles!

Tidal Bores occur in areas that have a fast rising tide that funnels up a river delta, river mouth, or narrow bay causing surfable waves to break in certain areas. These tidal bores often cause extensive erosion damage to the shoreline, and have resulted in numerous fatalities around the world. Spring tides and full moons increase the size of the bore a few times a year. Surfers started noticing, and riding, these tidal phenomenons in England in the mid 50’s, and Alaska in the 80’s. Then, exploration in the 2000’s took tidal bore surfing to the next level with overhead, barreling tidal waves being discovered in Asia and South America.

Here’s a breakdown of five of the world’s best tidal bores.

The Severn Bore, Gloucestershire, England

Considered the first tidal bore ever surfed, the Severn Bore has a long surfing history. WWII veteran Jack Churchill first rode the wave in 1955 on a self-made specialized surfboard. The Severn Bore has the third largest tidal range in the world at 49ft! This drastic change causes a wave to break for up to 31 miles upstream during the incoming tide. In March 2006, Steve King set a world record by riding the Severn Bore 9.25 miles for 1 hour and 17 minutes.

Turnagain Arm Tidal Bore, Cook Inlet, Alaska, USA

Just a short drive from Anchorage, the tidal bore at Turnagain Arm attracts surfers and spectators from all over the world. Advancements in wetsuit technology have increased the number of surfers that catch the icy bore, yet there’s still just a few guys out at each surfable section of the inlet. The Turnagain Arm Bore has a drastic tidal change of 43ft causing occasional chest high waves to break at the right spots. It’s arguably the most scenic of all tidal bores with a glacial fjord providing a stunning backdrop.

Pororoca, Araguari River, Amapa State, Brazil

Here’s where the tidal bores become deadly. Unlike the mellow tidal bore waves in England and Alaska, the waves from the Pororoca cause massive destruction to the shoreline and sweep people into the river. While an experienced surfer might not have a problem with the wave, the Pororoca occurs where people don’t usually know how to swim and therefore struggle in the current. Tales of Piranhas and strange parasites add to the fear. But in some locations, the Pororoca features some of the best tidal bore surf in the world.

The Silver Dragon, Qiantang River, Haining Province, China

The wave from the tidal bore at Qiantang River is the largest in the world with recorded heights reaching 11.5 feet! It’s also the most deadliest as 100’s of spectators get pulled into the river each year. The wave passes through heavily populated urban areas where tens of thousands line the shoreline to witness the spectacle. The wave is so solid that there’s an annual surf contest held by Red Bull attracting world famous pros like Jamie O’Brien, Mary Osbourne, and Jamie Sterling.

The Seven Ghosts, Kampar River,  Sumatra, Indonesia

While the Silver Dragon may be the largest tidal bore in the world, the “Bono” on the Kampar River definitely offers the most perfect wave. First exposed by a Rip Curl Search trip in 2010, this tidal bore actually forms large, barreling sections and peaks. Other sections offer perfectly groomed waves for maneuvers. And of course the wave peels for miles. The sheer wildness of the area is a challenge though with unseen tree limbs and massive crocodiles. The possibility of infection from countless forms of bacteria and a handful of nasty tropical diseases is a reality. Yet despite all the dangers there have been many surfing expeditions to the famed spot in the last 5 years.

Check out this “Water from the Moon” full movie from 2014!

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