Bristol Bound: Surfing The Severn Bore
Bristol, October 1972. Surfers were set to ride ‘one of the biggest bores of the year’, or so they thought. A gateway to the South West, the bridge between city and coast, Bristol is not revered for its epic surf. Except a few times a month when a strong tide pushes up the river, against the current, causing a surge of swell; a true tidal wave. And it was coming.
Which it did, but only at 18 inches across the 20 mile course from Billo Pill to Gloucester. Most would abandon ship, but those city surfers and Bore enthusiasts know better than to throw away an opportunity to slide across a natural phenomenon. Cue Keith Pepperell, pictured above in all his glory, riding the apex of the famous wave.
Keith - better known as Dad to Finisterre’s Trading Manager Bex - was a regular Bore surfer. It was his love of the water which inspired Bex to explore surfing in her teenage years, building up an all-encompassing passion for waves, be they on home turf or in distant lands, sea or river born.
Here she is talking about the first time she rode the Severn Bore.
"My dad was part of a small group of dedicated landlocked surfers who made regular weekend pilgrimages to the south west through the 60s and 70s. More predictable than most swells, and closer to home, the Severn Bore provided them with an easy quick surf hit a couple of times per year.
When I was around 15 he decided it was time for me to try it for myself. It was the strangest dawny I have ever had, walking through fields miles away from the sea in the dark, climbing down a muddy riverbank and sitting in flat water waiting for the Bore to arrive. Despite the accuracy of Bore forecasts, you never know exactly what you’re going to get due to the combination of tides, wind, and river flow needed to produce the perfect Bore.
As we bobbed up and down in the pre-dawn gloom my dad told me how when the bore was big you could hear the roar as it approached, and I anxiously strained my ears, trying to work out whether I’d have time to climb back out of the river if it was too big. I was relieved to see a small broken wave approaching along the riverbank. A quick flurry and everyone shouting at each other to paddle paddle paddle, and we were off. I came unstuck when I got too close to the bank near a bend and surfed straight into a low hanging tree, but we managed to climb out and headed back to the car to catch up with the wave further upstream. I was a Bore surfer!
Essentially just a wall of whitewater for most of the wave, with bonus dead sheep and trees to avoid if you’re unlucky, the Bore is nonetheless a unique British surfing experience. Even though I now live by the sea I still rub my hands with glee when I see the high tides around the equinoxes, and wonder if I can sneak in a quick trip to surf Britain’s most unusual wave."
More about the Severn Bore:
• It’s one of eight Bores in the UK.
• The shape of the Severn estuary means that water is funnelled into a narrow channel when the tide rises, which causes the formation of a large wave.
• You’ll score on the Bore around 260 times per year.
• Top Bore conditions occur 1-3 days after new and full moons.
• The largest recorded Bore was on 15 October 1966 downstream of Stonebench and reached a height of over 9 foot.
• The first Bore surfer was Colonel ‘Mad’ Jack Churchill, who surfed the Bore on a board he made himself on July 21st, 1955. Legend.
• Local surfer Steve King holds the record of surfing 7.6 miles on the Severn. Double legend.