Those Crazy January Days #Bude 2014

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By Dave Pritchard.

It only seems fitting as we start a new year to firstly wish all you lovely readers a Happy, Healthy and peaceful 2015, and secondly to put pen to paper (really Pritch, you emailed this to me?? – Dawn)  about some crazy days in January last year.

Ever since I moved to Bude 4 years ago, I had heard rumour of people surfing the river through the high street and had said to myself that, were the occasion to come along again, I would jump at the chance. This was something I added to my bucket list when I moved down here.
I had seen footage on YouTube of the Zuma boys doing it a few years back and it just looked soooo crazy, actually surfing on the Neet, and surfing UP river, but it was something that was very rare, only happening once in a blue moon.
I can’t tell you how excited I was when the storms battered our wonderful town last January and I started hearing rumours that it was “on!”
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A handful of mates said they were definitely up for it and, on 3rd Jan the shout went out that due to tide, storms, water levels and certain other unusual factors, we may have a chance of actually doing it, but it would be at night?!
As someone who surfs most days of the year I am used to cold water. Gloves, hood, boots and ye ol’ winter wetsuit are all norm for that time of year, so I excitedly scooted down to the Neet by Nanny Moore’s bridge.
On entering the water the first thing that really hit me was that fresh water is about 2 degrees colder than sea water! So, instead of the 7-8 degrees sea temperature the river was about 5-6 degrees! Wowza, cold like I hadn’t felt before but, with adrenaline in my veins and lots of similarly excited dudes around me I thought “what the heck”!
To say it felt alien standing in the river up to my waist in the dark was an understatement! The lights from the high street made it possible to see in the water and with great excitement we noticed that a crowd had started gathering along the high street.
I still wasn’t sure what the scoop was as I hugged the bank by the bridge and waited, excited like a child for xmas, to see what was going to be thrown at us down river from the darkness.
I think the first night there were about 15+ people in the small stretch of water. The buzz was immense and the anticipation of what we were about to experience was electric.
The first we knew about a wave coming was that the water we were in started being sucked back towards Summerleaze Beach. The pull was ridiculous as the water height dropped some 2-3 feet. If you weren’t hanging onto the wall you would be dragged back through the bridge very easily. Holding your ground was crazy, it was like you were on a rope and someone was trying to pull you back as hard as they could.
Then it started, first we heard people on the banks saying “here it comes” as we started to hear a faint rumbling from the darkness behind us. Louder and louder it got, as a huge swathe of water started to funnel it’s way up from Summerleaze past the Castle and hurtled towards Nanny Moore’s bridge at an ever increasing pace. The noise was terrific, a rumbling booming cacophony of sound that was coming ever closer to us.
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Then all hell broke lose!
Given the narrowness of the river, the onslaught of guys pushing off and starting to paddle resembled a scene out of a Benny Hill show. Arms flailing, loud whoops going off everywhere, boards getting tangled as were people as the wave charged at us through the bridge. Boards, leashes, arms and bodies collided amidst barrels of uncontrollable laughter.
For some of the “seasoned” surfers, they were already riding it the other side of the bridge. Goodness knows what the sight must have been for them as they carved their way under the bridge to be met with a dozen or so guys starting to paddle.
BOOOOM ! The sound of the water hitting the bridge was epic, like a cannon being fired, and then it was there on us!
I might point out that the waves were not massive, 2-3 feet on that first night, but it wasn’t so much the size of them as the actual power of them. Thousands of gallons of water were being forced up the river, channeling through the small arches of the bridge. I remember someone telling me when I started surfing that in a wave, there is 1 ton of pressure for every square metre so even small waves carry immense force.
To this day, words cannot adequately describe to you the feeling of anticipation and excitement of the first wave coming through that we attempted to take.
Mass confusion ensued as 20 or so people all tried catching the same wave.
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My first wave wasn’t successful as, in starting to paddle, with such a number of people in such a small space, my arms became entangled with other people’s arms and their boards.
For the lucky few, that was it, they were up and away. We saw a handful of people ride it, take off and then disappear up river in semi darkness.
That’s it I thought, next wave is mine!
Standing around in the water was immensely cold, there were some 7-8 minute gaps between the waves so we all hung around laughing and joking and shivering in unison as we eagerly anticipated the next blast, waiting to start to feel again that dragging back of water from the river.
We weren’t disappointed; this was it, I thought. Rumble rumble rumble, murmur murmur from the spectators on the High street…. “Start paddling” I said to myself, push push and then BOOM it was on me.
For a small size wave the force was incredible, before I knew it I felt my board whisked away and I was off! I was determined that this was going to be mine and in a scene that resembled feeding time at a trout farm, flapped my arms and pushed as hard as I could to ensure I would get on it.
The speed was phenomenal, but whoosh there I was, up and riding.
I can’t tell you how weird, ridiculous and also exhilarating it was to be shooting along the Strand with about half a dozen other people, past the bus stop, past the Strand Hotel, along to the Carriers…absolutely crazy!
Then came the next hurdle, I shouted across to one seasoned veteran “how far can we go and where do I get off?”
Before I knew it my questions were answered as we went hurtling along towards the second newly rebuilt bridge on Bencoolen Rd. I very quickly realised that the water level was such that my options were limited. With the old bridge, I had heard stories of a few guys going up as far as the rugby club but with the new bridge that was not an option as it sat lower down in the water. I had to jump off before my board tried to wedge itself under it and do it pretty quick as I was approaching the bridge with such speed.
Wow, I can’t tell you the absolute pleasure that was had riding a minute and a half down the high street in Bude. The buzz was incredible. People were cheering, taking pictures and laughing and whooping. This was insane!
The process was repeated many times that night as wave after wave battered Bude and came hurtling up the river. Rides were of varying degrees of success. I do remember one wave I started paddling, tried to get clear of people and then ending up riding with my board on the back of Steve Stritch lying on HIS board… Hilarious, there was nothing I could do, such was the immense power of the wave pushing me forwards! I got walloped a few times too as the other guys around me jockeyed for position. It was every man for himself!
We surf a lot bigger waves all year round in the sea but the spectacle of river surfing is something that makes me smile every time I pass Nanny Moore’s bridge and look affectionately at the little trickle of a river that normally winds its way through our town. I had done it, simply an incredible experience!
Such were the storms that we managed to repeat the experience several times over the next few days. I can’t tell you how great it made a cold wet January and it is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have some footage taken from my board on YouTube showing you first hand what the experience was like.
I appreciate that for some people that time was a less enjoyable time as the water flooded the banks and threatened their homes and my heart goes out to them. Some of the stories around the country were heartbreaking and all of us were not oblivious to that. We were simply very fortunate to have taken advantage of this natural phenomenon.
At the time, our antics attracted some criticism from a few killjoys saying we were putting ourselves at risk and that it was “reckless”. For the record, the water was no more than about 6 feet deep and at any given time, no person was more than an arms-width away from the side. Also, amazingly so, riding a longboard we each had circa 9 foot + of “floatation device” leashed to us! That and the fact that all the people in the water were experienced watermen who regularly surf 6-8ft + surf out in the open water, the danger was far less than any winter surf that was had in the sea. Additionally, as in the sea, we were all looking out for each other.
I shall leave the critics to their thoughts; all I would say to them is, if they could feel what we felt in the water that evening and the following few days, they wouldn’t have swapped that feeling for anything!
I vowed when I left 30+ years of spending each day sat at a desk in a big office to seize the day, and do some crazy things that I would look back on in later life and smile.
It’s one of the most fun things I have ever done in my life (and believe you me I’ve had my fair share!)
I had a GoPro on my board to record some of the runs which were spotted on You Tube and was lucky to be contacted by a production company who were making a film about the adverse weather conditions.
They did a slot about us on C4’s Britains Wildest Weather 2014 which is still available to watch online.  There’s also a few more pix here.
It’s just another reason why I love living in this great seaside town of ours #bigupbude! Have a great New Year and, let’s be careful out there folks!
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