Tell us about the BSA surfing record you held in 1996?
Well, the Surfing Association record was done at the last minute. The record for so long had been just over a couple of miles, and i'd been getting long, long rides of between four and five miles, so decided to have a go at doing the record. It really all came together actually on the day I did it. It was a perfect tide - not a very big tide, only about 9.5m, but the river conditions were perfect. Everything went well and I managed to more than double the existing record. Unofficially, my own record is 6.3 miles, which I think is about as much as you can surf on the river at the moment. Although I have had rides before that could possibly connect up and put another mile on that.
What's it like to surf for over six miles?
Well, it takes a long time!...I've kind of done it for so long now, that mileage really goes. You don't realise how far you're surfing. I mean, it only takes ten minutes and you've done a mile already. I tend to think about what i'm going to do for the rest of the day, and try not to concentrate to much on the actual surfing side of it. I find if I close my eyes, I can feel what the wave's going to do anyway. I know the river like the back of my hand, know what it's going to do, know when it's going to speed up, slow down and change direction. I more or less shut off the actual surfing side of it and feel the energy and flow of the wave. I almost become apart of it.
So, on the spiritual side of things, what does the legend of the river mean to you?
Where we are now is an island, completely surrounded by water, and you can definitely sense the energy of the place. It's a real special place. You can see why thousands of years ago the goddess Sabrina legend arose from the river. With the tide coming through, it would have been like a spirit coming up the river, cleansing the whole area.
What is the biggest waves you have seen on the river?
The biggest waves i've seen go back to the late 80's, early 90's. One particular day I can remember, it was a February morning, and we went down to Garden Cliff to meet the oncoming tide. We sat around waiting because we couldn't get through with the boat. You could hear the noise, like a steam train hurtling round the corner. And, around the corner, we were met by a five foot solid head of water which was getting bigger and bigger. By the time it got to Garden Cliff it was at least nine feet - almost double over head. And that was a clean face, not a head of water. That's the biggest I can remember, although, consistently we have had seven to eight foot tides pushing through in certain places.
Any recollections of your first attempt at the bore?
Yeah, I can remeber that the first time I went out and did it I was absolutely petrified! It was 1981 and I was sixteen years old. I had no idea what was going to be coming around the corner, or how I was going to surf it. Respect to anyone that comes out and has a go for the first time.
So what advice would you give to anyone wanting to have a go?
Well, you have got to treat it with a lot of respect really. It's the kind of thing that, if you take it for granted, it will make mincemeat out of you. Lots of times I've put my guard down and been caught out by the wave. It never does exactly the same thing in the same place every time. There is always something a little bit different about the wave. You've just got to be a little bit careful! It's not like the sea. There's a lot of water in the sea, but this one can chuck you around from bank to bank as well. You've got rocks to contend with, oil drums, old cars, fridges... Everything's rattling around in there, so you've got to be careful. I've been bashed about on the banks loads of times with oncoming rocks. I always try and put my feet first, so if anything is going to be hit it's my feet and not my head.
What's the scariest moment you can remember?
One that comes to mind is coming off the wave just around the top of the straight mile, going past Hempstead tip. I came off and was trying to get back on my board, but couldn't move because my leash had wrapped around the bottom of a tree. And of course you've got the oncoming tide that was making the water higher and higher, so I was starting to get dragged under. This went on for what seemed like an age and I started to panic a bit! In the end I just had to stop struggling, gather my thoughts together, and go underneath the water and get the leash off and unwrap it. I took in a lot of water that day!
Have you met people coming here from all over the world?
Oh yeah! It attracts people from everywhere. Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, even Littledean! All over the world really. It's got this legend status now for long distance riding, and surfers all over the world have heard of the Severn Bore. It's totally unique. It's nothing like surfing anywhere else in the world. It's a totally unique sport, so yeah, i'm happy to see all the people turn up.
And, finally, how many more years are you going to be surfing the Severn Bore?
I reckon I've probably got about another thirty years left in me. Half a century of bore riding, that's the plan!
All stills and narrative copyright Donny Wright, 2001.
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