Can You Surf A Tidal Bore? Should you?

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A tidal bore is a tidal phenomenon in which an incoming wave travels through a narrow bay or river and pushes against the current, reversing its direction. It creates a rare opportunity for adventurous surfers, but the unpredictable nature of tidal bores can make them difficult to surf.

What is a Tidal Bore?

Tidal bores typically occur along coasts where rivers empty into the ocean. It’s a surge, a sudden increase in water depth, and it occurs during flood tide (when the tide is rising).

Typically, a tidal bore will feature a single wave that travels at speeds of over 20 miles per hour. However, it can be accompanied by smaller waves.

Can You Surf Tidal Bores?

It is possible to ride tidal bores and many surfers seek to do just that. The best surfers have been known to surf tidal bores for several miles and the world record for surfing tidal bores was set by James Cotton, who covered 10.6 miles on Indonesia’s Kampar River.

These are not waves that should be taken lightly, though. Tidal bores are destructive and have been known to cause a great deal of property damage. If you’re an experienced surfer who knows the area and you’re properly equipped, it’s something you can consider. If you’re a complete novice, leave it to the experts and stick with surfing ocean waves.

Where Do Tidal Bores Happen?

There are several variations of a tidal bore and they occur all over the world. Typically, tidal bore locations will advertise their bores to invite surfers and spectators and maximize all of those surging waves.

Some of the best tidal bores around the world include:

The Silver Dragon

  • Where is it? Qiantang River, China
  • How Big is it? Up to 30 feet

The Qiantang River tidal bore is the biggest bore in the world, but surfing it is illegal. Permission has previously been granted to Red Bull surfers and there is lots of footage of them surfing the Qiantang bore on YouTube.

The Severn Bore

  • Where is it? The River Severn, Bristol, England
  • How Big is it? Up to 25 feet

The biggest tidal bores in the Severn occur between August and October and the legendary surfer Steve King once rode the famous Severn bore for over 9 miles.

The Baan

  • Where is it? Hooghly River, India
  • How Big is it? Up to 10 feet

The Hooghly River is a tribute of the Ganges river and produces an impressive bore that stretches for 25 miles and reaches heights of 10 feet. The bore can be seen daily during high tide, but it’s not the cleanest river in the world and you can expect to encounter a few bumps on your journey.

The Bono

  • Where is it? Kampar River, Sumata, Indonesia
  • How Big is it? Up to 20 feet

Indonesia’s Kampar River is where James Cotton set the record for surfing tidal bores. The tidal bore occurs during the rainy season in November and December and it produces some of the best waves in the world.

The water is very dirty, though, and there are crocodiles nearby, so this is not for the faint of heart!

The Benak

  • Where is it? Batang Lupar, Malaysia
  • How Big is it? Up to 12 feet

The tidal bore fills the river here in just a couple of minutes and creates rapid and high waves. There is a two-day festival staged in October where the tidal bore takes center stage.

Turnagain Bore

  • Where is it? Turnagain Arm, Alaska
  • How Big is it? Up to 10 feet

The Turnagain Bore is best surfed during the Vernal Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox. It’s cold, it’s unforgiving, and it’s far from easy, but it’s one of the most unique surfing experiences in the world and is set against a beautiful backdrop.

For more information on this Alaska surfing hotspot check out some Alaska bore tide videos on YouTube, including this one by NuttyNu.

Where Else Do Tidal Bores Occur?

The above options are some of the best tidal bores in the world. There is a lot of buzz surrounding some of these bores and you’ll often find plenty of local surfers and even a few pros testing themselves against those 10 to 20-foot waves. But there are many other bores out there, including the following:

Asia Tidal Bores

In addition to the Qiantang River, the world’s largest tidal bore, Asia has all of the following bores:

  • Sittaung River, Burma
  • Indus River, India, and Pakistan
  • Batang Sadong, Sarawak, Malaysia

UK Tidal Bores

The UK has some of the most tidal bores in the world, including the following:

  • River Mersey
  • River Trend
  • River Lune
  • River Eden
  • River Nith
  • River Esk
  • River Ribble
  • River Leven
  • River Welland

EU Tidal Bores

There was once a bore in the Seine River but dredging more or less eliminated it. France still has a few bores, though, including in Arguenon, Vire, Vilaine, and Dordogne. You can also find one in Flanders, Belgium.

North American Tidal Bores

Historically, there was a big tidal bore in the Petitcodiac River, but that’s no longer the case. You can find them in the Colorado River and Shubenacadie River, though.

South American Tidal Bores

The Amazon river has one of the most famous tidal bores. It can stretch up to 13 feet in height and race along at 13 mph. The locals refer to it as the “pororoca”.

Is Surfing Tidal Bores Dangerous?

Tidal bores can be very dangerous. They have been known to cause lots of property damage and even to sweep away onlookers. If you’re hopping on your surfboard and jumping straight into the mixer, you’ll be at risk of seriously injuring yourself.

There could also be dangerous animals in the water. Tidal bores can drag animals into the river, leaving them dazed, confused, and helpless. As a result, predators are usually always nearby.

Many professional surfers have ridden these waves without issue, and as noted above, some of them have set huge records, but they know what they’re doing and are properly prepared.