Bristol has some brilliant beaches. But if want to surf some gnarly waves, you’ll need to travel a bit further afield for this extreme water sport. Or you could try Bristol’s inland surf park, The Wave. There is another option though: Thanks to a natural phenomenon along the River Severn, it’s entirely possible to go river surfing near Bristol.
Believed to be the birthplace of river surfing, World War II veteran Jack Churchill became the first person to surf the Severn Bore in 1955 with a homemade board. Hundreds of surfers and onlookers now flock to Gloucestershire every year to surf and see the impressive waves surge up from the Bristol Channel – the world’s third-largest tidal bore.
What is the Severn Bore?
You might be a little confused as to how it’s possible to surf a river. The Severn Bore is a rare phenomenon that happens when rising tides move into the funnel-shaped Bristol Channel and surge in waves up the River Seven. Waves can rise as high as 25ft (7.5m) and reach a top speed of 27 km/h. There are only 60 rivers in the world with tidal bores, only eight are in the UK.
The sizes of the Severn Bore are determined by factors such as time of high tide, wind speed, wind direction, amount of water travelling down river, and barometric pressure, among others. Different sizes are categorised from five stars (largest) to one star (smallest). The rarest five-star bores have a tidal range of 5.4 metres and higher.
Where/when can I go river surfing?
Popular spots for river surfing the Severn are at Newnham, Severn Bore Inn, Minsterworth Church, Stonebench and Over Bridge. Several tidal bores can occur throughout the year, but when changes on a nine-year cycle – mainly in spring and autumn in 2024. The most sought-after five-star bore, however, is scheduled to take place on March 12 – between 8:21am (at Newnham) and 9:56am (at Over Bridge).
Note: The bore can arrive up to 20 minutes early or 30 minutes late depending on weather conditions. Tides can also be unpredictable (and very cold) so this is probably not one for newbies. To see the complete timetable of the Severn Bores and learn more about river surfing head here.