Forget The Ocean, Why Not Try Surfing These Insane River Waves
Just watch out for the penis-biting fish!
Are you finding the ocean too crowded? Or do you just want to follow the full moon to catch a wave? Here are the ten best river waves in the world, from tidal bores in Alaska to fleeting standing waves in Hawaii.
Silver Dragon, Qiantang River, China
“I couldn’t believe waves can be this good, in a river. I was blown away." That was Australian former top professional surfer Phil MacDonald talking to Mpora.com about the tidal river bore in China’s Qiantang River.
MacDonald was there to compete in the 2014 Red Bull Qiantang Surfing Shoot Out, which features surfers like Jamie O’Brien, Dean “Dingo" Morrison, Jamie Stirling and Mikala Jones.
This year the waves reached heights of 10 feet, with one of the world’s biggest tidal bores providing dramatic action for the thousands of spectators who line the river to watch the natural phenomenon.
Known locally as the Silver Dragon, the tide rushing into the river mouth from the nearby bay causes a bore which can travel at speeds of up to 25 miles an hour.
“The speed and the water movement is incredible," said Morrison. “You are moving so fast and you can do all the turns like normal surfing, except the wave goes for about a kilometre."
The Severn Bore, UK
The second largest tidal bore in the world might not have the best shaped waves, but it has the longest and most colourful surf history.
The large surge wave occurs in estuary of the River Severn in Gloucestershire, aided by a tidal range as high as 50 feet which occurs a few days after the new and full moons.
The shape of the Severn estuary is such that the water is funneled into an increasingly narrow channel as the tide rises, thus forming the wave which at its fastest travels around 15 miles per hour.
Colonel “Mad Jack" Churchill, an ex-wartime Commando leader, was the first man to surf the bore back 1955 while Steve Ling is the current Guinness World Record holder for the longest ride, a leg-jellying distance of 9.25 miles.
The Pororocoa, Brazil
A tidal bore formed where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Pororoca (translated as 'great roar' in the local Tupi language) can travel 500 miles inland creating waves as high as 12 feet.
The wave has been surfed since the late 1990s, with an annual championship held on the Guama River tributary first starting in 1999.
In 2003 the Brazilian Picuruta Salazar won the event with a record ride of 8.2 miles that lasted 37 minutes. That year the Pororoca was brought to world wide attention when famous big wave surfers Ross Clarke-Jones and Carlos Burle surfed the bore and made a documentary film of their adventure called, rather obviously, Pororoca: Surfing the Amazon.
While the speed and size of the bore has its challenges, it is the debris, including whole trees, fauna and Amazon penis-biting fish that perhaps provide the biggest fear factor. “Fear comes through lack of knowledge," said Clarke-Jones in the film, “and I was as scared as I have been in a long time before I surfed that wave."
The Bono, Sumatra, Indonesia
Not named after U2’s lead singer but for the Indonesian word for tidal wave, the Bono breaks in the Kampar River in Sumatra.
The wave made international news when a Rip Curl team led by three time world champion Tom Curren surfed the wave in epic conditions for their Seven Ghosts movie in 2011.
High quality footage including seven perfect wave sets and big brown barrels went viral. The Bono now has numerous camps and tour operators set up to surf the waves.
No wonder as the average ride on the Bono wave lasts about 15 minutes with wave sizes between two and four feet, often with fun peeling rippable walls, although certain sections can produce wave faces of more than 10 feet.
The Bono also offers water temperatures of a bath like 27°C and the record for a ride on a single wave is more than one hour.
Eisbach, Munich, Germany
While a wave that translates as “Ice Brook" in English doesn’t seem too appealing, Munich’s Eisbach has become the hub for urban surfing in Europe.
It is a standing wave, created when a high volume of water is constricted by flowing over rock, that has now been surfed for over 40 years and has a real surf culture attached to the area.
The Eisbach is a small man-made river, on a side arm of the Isar River and the wave is just past a bridge near the Haus der Kunst art museum. Local surfers have also attached ropes to the bridge which trail submerged planks that also improve the quality of the wave.
While the Ice Brook is cold, most weekends will see locals (and visiting tourists) queue by the river to have a crack surfing the three foot left and rights.
Turnagain Bore Arm, Alaska, USA
Unlike most of the river waves mentioned here, the Turnagain Arm bore wave is the only one that occurs in the far north and is bordered by mountains, making it the most unique and geologically dramatic bore tides in the world.
Located in the Gulf of Alaska to the southeast of Anchorage, it is the also probably the coldest, with water temperatures hovering around 5°C. It is definitely the only bore you will also share with surfing seals and breaching Beluga whales.
The waves occur all year around just after the new and full moons. Although to avoid hyperthermia, it is advised to tackle Turnagain in the summer months where waves up to five feet can be caught and speeds of 15 miles per hour can be generated.
Petitcodiac River, New Brunswick, Canada
Rivaling the Turnagain for iciness if not isolation is Canada’s Petitcodiac River. This has become the world’s newest river surfing sensation after Californians Colin Whitbread and JJ Wessels rode a wave for two and half hours and approximately ten miles in July this year.
The Petitcodiac River, on the east coast near the border with the States, flows south to the Bay of Fundy and is home to some of the highest tidal reaches in the world.
Until three years a dam had stopped the tidal bore from forming waves, but when the floodgates were opened in 2011 a new river wave was formed. Of course, the Canadian customs officials weren’t aware of this when Wessel and Whitbread turned up for their maiden voyage.
"They looked at our passports and said, 'where are you going?' 'We're going to go surf a river wave in Canada,'" Whitbread told abcNEWS. "'Seriously boys what are you going to go do? Don't lie to me.' I said, 'I'm telling you we're going to go surf this river wave!'"
In the end, they made it through the border and created river surf history.
Urumea River, San Sebastian, Spain
The Urumea River cuts through the Basque Country’s San Sebastian providing kilometre long waves in the right conditions.
Unlike the other tidal bores mentioned here, you are riding waves that formed in the ocean, all be it ones that have passed through the river mouth and under a few bridges.
It does need huge waves though to make it up the river, so most surfing is done when the big winter storms stack up in the North Atlantic.
On the flip side, the city lights mean it is possible to surf all night long, although it is advised to wait for the low tide. Too much water and you will hit one of the three bridges that cross the river bringing a rather severe, painful end to your surf.
Pesta Benak, Malaysia
Another tidal bore in Sarawak’s Batang Lupar that was pioneered by Frenchman Anthony “Yep" Colas, the undisputed king of tidal bore exploration.
The Malaysians call a tidal bore a "benak" and this one is located Sri Aman, 100 miles from Kuching.
Colas was the first to surf the wave in 2011 braving muddy waters to ride the bore on a surfboard, although locals had been riding the waves in their longboats for a while.
The Pesta Benak, or King of the Tide Festival, was first held in 2001. Interestingly, in preparation for that initial festival, organisers spent several days flushing crocodiles out of the river for the safety of tourists. Gulp.
Waimea Bay Lagoon, Hawai'i, USA
One of the most shortlived of all the river waves, but perhaps the most documented, the standing wave at Waimea Bay in Hawai'i occurs once or twice every winter.
After heavy rainfall, the lagoon behind Waimea Bay fills to brimming and the overspill breaks through the beach, draining into the ocean. For a few hours a fierce torrent cuts through the sand, providing a standing wave which is usually attacked by kids, tourists, bodyboards and some of the world’s best surfers.
Famous Hawaiian surfer Jamie O’Brien is usually one of those surfers first on it, the brief standing wave providing a safe, novelty surf a stone’s throw away from one of surfing’s most dangerous breaks.