Surfing Tidal Bores

Kilometres away from the open sea, the Petitcodiac River is in New Brunswick, Canada. The murky brown water is silty, and fragrant with the runoff of a  nearby water treatment plant. Access is available only by sliding down the muddy bank. It’s in Canada. The water’s cold.

None of this matters when the tidal bore comes in.

Tidal bores occur when especially high tides rush into a narrow bay, which then funnels the water into a river. While rare in North America, spectacular tidal bores can be found on the Ganges and the Amazon.

Twice a day, at high tide, the Petitcodiac River becomes a surf pool, with waves rolling in at 13km/hr. The waves begin to break at the mouth of the river, at Belliveau Village, and continue 30 kilometres upstream to a causeway near Mocton.

Last summer, JJ Wessels and Colin Whitbread tackled the bore, setting a North American surfing record by riding the waves for 29 kilometres. The journey took over two hours, and drew the attention of astonished Moctonians, who have concerns about the quality of the water. Thrilled nonetheless about the new record Wessels said, ‘We jumped into a river that smelled like poop and came out smelling like roses.’

Word spread quickly, and bore surfers worldwide have come to test the waters. But these tricks are not for kids. You have to be in expert shape…we’ve been surfing our whole lives and this was challenging,’ said Whitbread, ‘You’re catching a little tsunami tidal wave.’

The Californians set their record under the surveillance of rescue SkiDoos, and checked with causeway officials before staging the event. A few weeks later, disaster was only narrowly averted when surfers neared Mocton to find the causeway closed, and a 3-metre wave travelling toward them. Surf tourists should be sure to get good travel medical insurance if they plan to tackle the bore.

Mocton hopes to cash in on the Petitcodiac’s tidal bore. They plan to improve access to the river and set up an international surfing festival. Luckily, a river restoration project is already in place. The plan will replace the causeway with a bridge, adding another 15 kilometres to the ride. Thanks to the tidal bore, Mocton now has mojo.