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SEVERN BORE, PLAYGROUNDS IN PARADISE
'...At 10:30am on 21st July 1955, Colonel Churchill swam from the bank below Stonebench with his surf-board. There was a tide of 31ft 1in at Sharpness and as the fair-sized bore approached, the Colonel placed his board beneath him and began to swim upstream. Moments later the leading slope of the bore slid under him and he started planing forward...'
As chronicled by F.W.Rowbotham

Courtesy Dave Birch
PHOTO PLATE INDEXSEVERN BORE PLATE 5
The river has been a beacon for surfers and canoeists ever since a veteran commado officer pioneered the bore at Stonebench in 1955. He was followed nearly a decade later by some Australian lifeguards from Newquay, including surf pioneer, Bob Head. For the next two decades, many top British and international surfers tackled the murky waters of the Severn. And by the early '70's, the British Surfing Association had recognised an official record for distance surfing, which earned a place in the Guiness Book of Records.

The record changed hands several times as mileage was slowly pushed up, and, in 1977, this unique branch of surfing was recognised internationally with the release of the film, Playgrounds in Paradise. It featured British surfing champion, Bruce Palmer, surfing a clean winter face near Rea.

Former British champion, Colin Wilson, successfully claimed the record in the spring of '82 with a distance over 2 miles. But since then, Severn bore surfing has been the realm of two local men for the last twenty years. Dave Lawson, of Rea, who was first inspired by Bob Head and his team back in 1962, transformed the distance record in line with strict guidelines to exclude prone surfing in 1988. Dave became the dominant force on the river, as surfers travelled from around the country through the '80's to ride the wave. The crowds grew, and the method of transport developed, as all kinds of objects were acquired, from lilos to an inflatable elephant! Also a large contingent of the canoeists regularly gathered at certain points on the river and regularly held an annual race, inaugurated back in the late '60's.

Bruce Palmer, Click To Read More Courtesy of the BRC
Dave Lawson, Click To See More From the BRC Archive Files
Steve is renowned for his tricks. Click to read the Wizard Interviews Steve is renowned for his tricks. Click to read the Wizard Interviews
Click to read the original article on Steve's record from the local Citizen newspaper.
It wasn't long before Dave was being shadowed by another local man, Steve King of Saul. Steve had developed his surfing around the world, and now concentrated his energies on the river. Both surfers used back up boats to track the bore throughout the river, and find potential for longer rides. By the early '90's, Steve had successfully negotiated the Over Bridge obstacle, and was riding distances in excess of 5 miles. The day finally arrived when the conditions looked optimal, and Steve summoned the adjudicator. On Sunday, August 5th 1996, Steve rode from Weir Green to Maisemore, a distance of 5.5 miles and a duration of over 40 minutes!

Within the month, controversial circumstances ensued, as Dave reclaimed the record with a distance of 5.7 miles, and the record has sadly been removed from the record books at the current time. Towards the end of the decade Steve clocked an unofficial distance of 6.3 miles with a GPS tracking system, about the maximum possible in the river at the current time.

In 1998 a new generation of Severn surfer began to evolve. Now the local crew has multiplied into a small club incorporating both the experience of Steve and fellow Lydney veteran 'Drop Down' Dave, with the enthusiasm of newcomers, like the Toes, the Silver Surfer and Buffalo. A greater emphasis has been placed on surfing the estuary with constant poor conditions to combat. And on warm summer evenings, a relaxing surf washed down in the local taverns has created a unified atmosphere among the surfers!! But there is nothing really to say here that is not all ready available on the Bore Riders Club web site.

The bore riders courtesy Dave Birch, Click To Enlarge
Bore surfing on the Severn has a long and unique history, with many famous names participating. Rodney Sumpter rode the estuary for over five miles from Garden Cliff to Longney in the early '70's. The 80's saw hundreds of water users gathering at spots like the Severn Bore pub in anticipation. And the '90's saw several appearances from former European Pro Longboard champion, Guts Griffiths, in a bid for the record. But while many faces have come and gone from the banks, it is the locals, Dave and Steve that have consistently studied the bore, its course and its mechanism over changing topography. Bore surfing is an artform that can only be mastered through much dedication and experience, with many dangers along the way. As Steve once said...

'You have got to show it a lot of respect. I mean, if you take it for granted, it will make mincemeat of you! I have been surfing the river for nearly 20 years now, and sometimes it still frightens me, it really does!...'

Courtesy Tom Wright

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