Surfing the Severn Bore is the greatest ride on earth


The Severn Bore is the greatest ride on earth, says the surfer who has ridden tidal waves from the mighty Amazon to the crocodile-infested Kampar River in Indonesia.

The otherworldly experience of surfing one of the world’s great tidal bores includes gliding past grazing cows, according to the record-holder who has ridden the Severn more than 2,000 times.

The journey by surfer Steve King, a railway engineer from Gloucestershire, and Welsh author Tom Anderson, from Bridgend, up the Severn Estuary was followed by a camera crew for a major new television series, Llanw (Tide), made by Caernarfon-based television company Cwmni Da.

The first programme in the three-part series will be broadcast on S4C at 8pm on Sunday, June 2.

Steve has been answering the call of the great wave that sweeps up the Severn Estuary twice a day for more than 30 years and he holds the record for the longest ride.

That lasted for an hour and 17 minutes and covered nine and a quarter miles until he ran out of river at the Gloucester weir and Steve has ridden river bores in India, Indonesia, Canada and Brazil but nothing quite compares to the Severn.

The bore is formed when the rising tide moves into the funnel-shaped Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary and the surging water forces its way upstream in a series of waves, as far as Gloucester and beyond.

Steve, from the village of Saul, a few hundred yards from the river, said: “I’ve been surfing it for the last 30 years so that must be between two and three thousand times.

“It’s powered by the strength of the tide and the beauty of waiting for the tide is the anticipation because you don’t know if it’s going to be big or small so the adrenaline is really pumping.

“Once you’ve caught it, it’s the length of the ride that’s the difference between riding it and riding a wave on the ocean.

“If you are lucky you can ride it for half an hour or even an hour and the landscape changes all the time, you’re going through countryside with cows in the fields and instead of an ocean wave breaking on the beach the Bore just goes on and on.

“There’s lots of turbulence and whirlpools which are created by the fact that there are two bodies of water, the Bore going upstream and the river coming down.

“I’ve been lucky enough to surf quite a few of the bores around the world, the Amazon, and in India and Indonesia and it’s still the best and I was brought up here.”

Tom added: “Surfing the Severn Bore is the closest thing that a surfer comes to having a spiritual experience.

“You don’t chase it, it chases you. It sweeps everything before it.”

Cwmni Da filmed on four continents, taking in 10 countries and the Arctic for the £600,000 series about the ocean’s tides, as well as in Ireland and Scotland and in the Far East.

Director Aneurin Thomas said: “Because the river meanders you can actually surf it in sections, get off or fall off, and jump in your van and drive across to another section of the river in time to catch the Bore again.

“We had a cameraman in a boat with Steve and we had to go out towards the wave which was quite hairy because there was often less than half a metre of water in the river so the propeller hit the river bed quite often.

“We had a pilot in the boat who knew where the sandbanks were and with a big river like that and the power of the Bore there were a few hairy moments but it was really exciting too.”

The series is a first ever collaboration between Celtic language channels including, S4C TG4 in the Republic of Ireland, BBC Northern Ireland and MG Alba in Scotland as well as LIC, the largest independent television production company in China.

The Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and English versions of the series have been edited at Cwmni Da’s state-of-the-art production centre where the voice overs were also done.

The series is being distributed in Greater China, Hong Kong and Macau and Taiwan by LIC and it’s hoped it can also be sold to other broadcasters world-wide.

Dylan Huws, the managing director of Cwmni Da, said: “Cwmni Da was the driving force of the project in many ways and we sent teams as far afield as China, Canada and Korea along with various locations in Wales and across the UK. In all we filmed on four different continents, including 10 countries and the Arctic.

“The production was epic in scale and content because we witnessed the world’s strongest and highest tides and experienced raging whirlpools and tidal bores in some of the most stunning locations on the planet.

“The highest tides are in the Bay of Fundy in Canada where they reach 70 feet, with a massive tidal range of 56 feet, the height of a five-storey building, between high and low tide.

“The largest tidal bore is in Hangzhou Bay in China and that was amazing.  There were 100,000 people on the banks of the river celebrating the annual Harvest Moon festival and witnessing the arrival of the tidal bore called the Silver Dragon which travels at 20 mph and is a bit like a tsunami coming up river.

“We filmed the world’s strongest tide in Norway in a fjord which squeezes the water in the outgoing tide through a 130 metre gap to the open sea and has claimed the lives of 60 people over the years.

“We have focused on human stories, so that you get a slice of people’s lives as well. For example, we looked at the way that people in China produce seaweed and at the work of the mussel fishermen in the Menai Straits.

“One of the most remarkable things we filmed was an amazing horse race which happens in Omey Bay in Ireland.

“They set up a horse racing track when the tide goes out and it only happens on one day a year.

“All the partners are proud of the fact that we have worked together because the television budgets for minority indigenous languages are challenging.

“This collaboration means we have all got more bang for our buck and created a great television series in the process.”