Foreigners Break the Chinese Law and a Surfing World Record

China’s tidal bore, known as the Silver Dragon, is the greatest on the planet with 8.9 tidal range max. After 1988′s debatable success to ride the bore (UK Stuart Matthews rode the bore for 11 secs in the whitewater), a team of French, Brazilian and Italian riders managed to ride several waves at different locations on the Qiantang river, about two hours from Shanghai. Following expedition leader Antony ‘Yep’ Colas first scouting river trip on a jetski, Eduardo Bag (Brazil) on a longboard and Patrick Audoy (France) on a stand-up board, managed to ride the bore for 1h10, on a distance assessed at 17,1 K.

There are about 80 rivers in the world producing a tidal bore like the Severn Bore in England (first ridden in 1955), the Mascaret in France (Garonne, Dodogne), Pororoca in Brazil (Amazon basin), Lupar Benak in Malaysia but none gets more dramatic than the Chinese Guanchao. It’s a tremendous phenomenon, observed and studied by scientists, poets, spectators for more than 2,000 years. Part of the Qiantang river is bordered by a fish-scale wall originally 200km long, some river version of the China Great Wall. Because of a 100km wide perfect funnel-shaped estuary, the bore can break as long as 120 km, an equivalent of 6h. Because the river is so wide and particularly shallow, the bore breaks as a continuous wall of whitewater, until it hits deeper parts where amazing peeling waves can be ridden on the shallow edges.

Whatever the tidal range is, there is always a wave rolling somewhere along the estuary, which makes it the most consistent waves in China and maybe in the world. Even Hawaii and Indonesia get flat days! On October, 14, Antony Colas and jetski pilot Xavier Leroy did a first river reconnaissance trip and after a first 3min ride, the old 800cc jet broke down, putting an abrupt end to several months of preparation work. After a week of land trips, 6 surfers jumped in again on October, 24th and brazilian Eduardo Bag and french Patrick Audoy disappeared in the haze. They stopped their amazing ride at the bridge, 1h10 min later or the equivalent of 17,1 km.

It’s legally forbidden to take any activity in the river during the bore, especially after 12 people were killed last August 2nd watching the bore at night near Hangzhou. In the last 20 years, the bore has taken about 100 lives, victims being mostly unaware spectators getting caught on the banks, not able to swim. The law got reinforced and it’s no surprise that the police eventually caught the surfers. Following a cover article by Wang Xinke in the Hangzhou Youth Times stating “Foreigners break the law and a surfing world record”, situation changed when Chinese Authorities started to smell the economical potential of creating a possible surfing show on the river. Law has not changed yet but when surfers got wet again, many helped them to catch up with the bore hitching rides along the riverbanks!

The world surfing record standing up on a surfboard set by Sergio Laus was officially accepted by Guinness World Records as a distance of 10.1km (33 minutes 15 seconds) set on the Araguari Pororoca on 24th June 2005 while Picuruta Salazar had on mid-April 2003 an unofficial 12 km length ride (about 37min). An all Brazilian affair! Beyond an unofficial record, the main point here is that surfers have been changing Chinese Authorities perception of the recreational use of the river during the bore. If any surfing demonstration should be done for the next Olympics Games in China 2008, there it should happen!

Words and photos by: {encode=”yep@surftrip.net” title=”Antony Colas”}

Additional photos: John Callahan

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