Severn Bore World Surfing Record

Relates to Surf and Travel

Time to set the record straight!

It all started with a single press release from the Press Association. Who lays claim to actually writing the piece is a mystery to me, but every national paper jumped onto the story as well as T.V. stations and the countless news blogs around the web. It is the latter in particular (and the online press archives) that particularly alarm me. I have spent the last ten years researching the history of the Severn Bore and those who have surfed it and over this time have always tried to remain impartial in my interpretation of all articles reporting past feats on the Severn. With accounts from the first 30 years of bore surfing objective interpretation has been relatively easy thanks to the lack of primary sources. Of course media spin was not so well established in the 60's and 70's so a single account can generally be accepted with a certain amount of caution when interpreting the facts.

For example I have always been sceptical of accepting the accounts from the London Press of Jack Churchill's 2 mile ride on the first Severn Bore attempt in 1955. The local papers only report that he was seen getting out of the river. Only Mad Jack himself could verify the authenticity of his pioneering attempt and sadly he is no longer with us.

As far as the distance surfing world record goes by the 1980's the Guiness Book of Records had taken it on board and their strict requirements for adjudication support the authenticity of accounts. The problem with the latest account of Steve's record breaking ride is that it has been embraced by the media globally in astronomical proportions. Do a Google search for world surfing record bore and see the results flood in. From major newspapers to global surfing news blogs to personal blogs - the word is out there! And over the last week the words themselves have evolved and adapted as each journalist or blogger has put there own personal touch (spin) on the story. In essence the sources that document this record ride place authenticity on it simply by their volume. A researcher might induce from the facts available the objectivity of the event. That is in time it will become a historical fact! Of course one of the strengths of inductive methodology in historical analysis is that it is always possible for a fact to be a fallacy if a contradictory account exists. A single opposition is not enough to falsify all other sources but it is enough to lay the seed of doubt in the mind of the researcher and influence the eventual objectification of the fact.

And that is where I am going now with this post. With the preamble out of the way I would like to lay bear the facts behind Steve's recent record breaking ride. Steve is a very good friend of mine and I do not fault his impressive achievement. But I know he would accept himself that some of the information that has found its way into the media is pure fantasy. Thanks to the rumours that seeped from an unknown source someone took it on themselves to spin a fairytale account of Steve's achievement. Anyone reading this post is free to interpret this as you like. By all means refute it in favour of the words of the Press Association if the media rules your world ;)

First, let me lay bear the most ridiculous claims:

  • The duration of Steve's ride was not 1 hour and 17 minutes (or even 1 hour and 16 minutes as BBC news took it on themselves to create). It was less than 1 hour. Steve will confirm this and anyone who has surfed regularly on the Severn will know the time reported is simply impossible over the distance covered. On average the bore takes 60 minutes to travel from Newnham to the Severn Bore Inn with 10 minutes either side depending on the prevailing winds and river depth.
  • The day Steve surfed his record ride was not a race or any other form of competition! There never has been a surfing competition on the Severn. The only race ever held on the Severn Bore was the annual canoe race.
  • There were not 1000 surfers on the river that morning! A ridiculous claim. Who was counting? In the Bore peaks of the late 80's there might have been 100 plus surfers and kayakers/canoeists in the water at the Severn Bore Inn. On this particular morning there were certainly no more than 100 water users over the whole passage of the bore.
  • The bore did not reach speeds of 20mph. This too is an ill researched claim. The Severn Bore on average travels between 8mph and 12mph generally reaching faster speeds in the upper reaches of the river proper. The record was done in the estuary where the bore is travelling slower due to the drag from the sandbanks and the meandering nature of its journey. The report of the Severn Barrage Committee in 1933 actually measured speeds between 5mph and 8mph between Newnham and Framilode. Of course on the morning in question a strong south-westerly wind would have increased the speed of the wave, but anything in excess of 12mph is unlikely. Speeds of 20mph are only reached by the largest tidal bores of the world - the Qiantang Dragon and Araguari Pororoca - which hold waves from 4m to 6m. Of course speed here is relative to wave size.

Finally to the authenticity of the distance itself. For certain tabloids to coin the headline Eight mile surf… shows total disregard for the precision required for any World Record claim. Firstly, we are in a global community now and as such we should be addressing these distance metrically. So conversion to kilometres shows the hyperbolical spin of the headline distance of 12.8km (8 miles) compared to the account distance of 12.16km (7.6 miles). The actual distance that Steve surfed is yet to be quantified officially and accepted by both the BSA and the Guiness Book of Records. So in point of note it is not a World Record yet!!! I do not know what the actual distance that Steve surfed is - that is for him and his official adjudicator, Quicksilver team rider Jon Rose, to establish. But the press release was very much jumping the gun. In fact despite an endorsement by the BSA national director in several of the broadsheet accounts, the BSA have since stated that they have not and will not accept the record as official until Guiness first verify it.

So, that is the facts! Please take everything that has been written about Steve's recent ride with an air of caution. Someone from the Press Association should bow their head in shame at making a mockery of our unique sport. Any sport that involves distance and time requires precision and it is unjust that the media should take it on themselves to fictionalise that accuracy - especially when it includes the major broadsheets!

I respect Steve and am especially admirable of what he has achieved. It will be a great joy if it is accepted as a new World Record - an unexpected and quick response to our friend Serginho's record breaking distance, which took the trophy from British waters for the first time n the sport's 50 year history in June last year. At the same time I am sure it will further drive the record seekers (myself included) to look for bore breaks that allow the record to be extended even further. I know this spring the Araguari Pororoca has been breaking around 4m to 5m - a size of wave that could very easily see it power through the river for excess of 16km - that is 10 miles!

Posted on Monday, Apr 17, 2006 at 15:32:36.

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