From North Stack Lighthouse on Anglesey to the mysterious and powerful Pororoca wave on the Amazon, the ocean's tides throw paddlers a challenge and a prize. Timing, preparation and determination will reward you with majestic scenery and an amazing sense of place.
Thanks to the gravitational pull of the moon on earth's water, our seas are in constant flux, rising and falling. Where these tides contact land, they are amplified and transformed into constantly changing currents. Some barely register, but others cause formidable rapids, and surges of up to fifteen metres.
Tides around the world - the British Isles has some of the world's largest!
Off the mainland of West Wales lies Ramsey island. It’s a thriving nature reserve, home to thousands of nesting seabirds and colonies of inquisitive seals. At times of equinox, when tides are highest, the animal residents are joined by another strange species – paddlers in search of adventure.
Just off the east side of the island, jutting across the sound, you’ll find a series of imposing rocks stretched out in a line back towards the mainland. These are the Bitches and as the name suggests, and many boats have found to their peril, they should not be underestimated!
As the pressure of the incoming tide from the Celtic sea into St Georges channel increases, so does the current, and what start as ripples quickly become powerful sections of whitewater. The sea becomes a vast river, with waves, eddies and stoppers forming. Add to this wind and Atlantic swell, and things can get very interesting.
With the rapids running for about three hours, the best tides are very early or late on in the day. True soul surfers will find themselves up before dawn watching the sunrise as they surf; a truly special experience.
At different states of the tide, different features come and go, but the two best ones for paddlers are the surging playhole near the island and the curling, crashing front wave. Over the years this spot has seen the progression of playboating; from the early days when paddlers would stand up in their boats on the wave, through to the evolution of flat hulls and aerial moves.
It’s not just whitewater kayaks out on the tide; the whole island is a mecca for sea kayaks, with some adventurous trips through nearby sea caves. More recently the shorter, more playful breed of sea kayaks have been tearing up the waves, alongside newcomers in the form of stand up paddlers.
It’s a stunning location with brilliant paddling, but you’ve always got to keep enough in the tank for the paddle back; the sting in the tail. The channel, now running at full pace, can become a conveyor belt of haystack waves surging from all directions. With the ever looming presence of Horse Rock overfall between you and the shore, you’ll be happy to reach the the calm of the harbour. As you look back to see miles of ocean streaming past, and white foam decorating the rocks, you can marvel at the sheer scale of it all.
Many of Palm’s staff have spent countless happy hours paddling at the Bitches and every one of us has a story to tell. Mostly you’ll hear tales of full-on excitement, but also of serenity and space, and of rare encounters with nature.
Our connection with the spot goes further. In 1991 Rodeo paddling was in its infancy and unlike the Olympic level regulation of todays freestyle world championships, there wasn’t much in the way of organisation.
Up stepped local paddler Andy Middleton, who chose the Bitches as location to put together the first ever Rodeo World Championships, with help from Palm.
It was not easy. One of the first questions asked by international paddlers was where is Wales?! Secondly, what sort of format would work in a rapidly changing environment like a tide race. And, almost as an afterthought, someone asked how could you do all that on an island over half a mile out to sea.
In the end it was made simple. Different manufacturers supplied a set of boats, used by all, for each stage of the contest, and with the help of local fishing boats the whole lot and the teams and spectators stayed on the island. The format involved a sprint, hole surfing, squirt boat and of course king of the wave competition – all topped off by a party and celebration on the island. Palm supplied boats but the most coveted items were the special Rodeo Cag and PFD given to competitors.
And what about results. It was closely fought, the American team did well and the UK contingent led by Shaun Baker and Andy Middleton were on form. In the end however, it was a German paddler who took home the first ever world title. His name is Jan Kellner and now, over twenty years later, he is our German sales agent.
Truly a world class sea kayak destination, the island of the druids always has shelter somewhere and a storm somewhere else. The tide races on the north side of the Island are a worthy tidal playground used by coaches for skills and groups for play.
Massive volumes of water, up to 18,000 cubic metres per second, pour from the Gerogia Strait into the Sechelt Inlet and create a world class white water feature. Highly photogenic, with an abundance of marine life, it is on many a paddler’s radar. But be careful not to go ‘on tour’.
The power of the Atlantic is forced into the funnelling shape of the Severn Estuary and as the large spring tides of up to fifteen meters push in, a surfable wave forms running up to Maisemore weir. It’s a favourite ours at Palm, being just up the road from our HQ. The Palm staff record sits at just 5.6 miles of non-stop surfing, but how far can you surf?
This set of waves forms as Loch Etive empties out across a series of rock shelves into the firth of Lorn. Definitely one of the most powerful tidal rapids in the UK it is also surrounded by some quite amazing sea kayaking and whitewater paddling.
It’s not the biggest tidal bore in the world (that honour belongs to the Qiantang River in China), but at the opposite end of the Atlantic to the Severn Bore, the gigantic mouth of the Amazon is home to a huge tidal bore wave – The Pororoca. Careful though; with water home to alligators, snakes and even nastier things it is not just the wave you have to worry about ...