Forget The Ocean, Why Not Try Surfing These Insane River Waves

Just watch out for the penis-biting fish!

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.


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