Surfers discover world class river wave in Myanmar

“There’s a million monks in Myanmar, and as they don’t permit the use of power or engines, most of the work is done by elephants,” Antony “Yep” Colas tells GrindTV. “The elephants are trained for labor and you can get a ride anywhere.

“I would say, though, that riding an elephant is much harder than riding a tidal bore.”

Have elephant, will SUP. Photo: Courtesy of Antony Colas

Now, riding a tidal bore, otherwise known as a river wave, is something that Colas does know something about. The Frenchman is one of the world’s great surf adventurers and tidal-bore specialists. He has pioneered bore surfing in Brazil’s Pororoca, the Quangchao in China, Malaysia’s Benak and the Bono in Indonesia.

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In his latest mission, he was in a group that was the first to surf the Gulf of Martaban in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), located next to the former capital, Yangon.

“We rely on maps and journals from the colonial days of the British and the Portuguese to discover potential bores,” Colas says. “We found evidence that navigators in the 1800s had issued warnings about waves in the Sittaung River.”

Talk to the fan … Photo: Courtesy of Antony Colas

Colas then turned to more recent technology, which included a river study from 1932 and a 70-year-old black-and-white painting. The illustration depicted a battle between two warships that was interrupted by a huge wave. Google Earth this ain’t.

Bad news for battleships, great news for bore surfers. Photo: Courtesy of Antony Colas

The final piece of evidence that convinced Colas and his friends to go check out the area was the presence of a canal. “I discovered the locals were losing ships and cargo due to frequent waves and so had built a canal between two rivers so they could avoid it completely,” he says. “The canal was 50 miles long and built with their bare hands, so I figured the bore must be significant.”

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About six months of planning later, Colas discovered his hunch was correct. Despite arriving two days after the peak of the tide (river bores being at their biggest on the full and new moons), Colas found surfable waves of up to 3 feet. The group then settled into a week-long pattern of uncrowded river surfing.

Antony “Yep” Colas prepares for takeoff. Photo: Courtesy of Antony Colas

“We surfed in the morning and evening, as the tide was shifting only 30 minutes a day,” Colas says. “We’d motor up the river at first light and surf four different sections of the river in a two-hour session. Some of the waves we could ride for almost 30 minutes at a time.”

Colas’ longest wave clocks in at 28 minutes. Imagine the leg burn! Photo: Courtesy of Colas

While the trip was an unqualified success, Colas believes they have seen only a sliver of the potential of the bore. “Even seven days after the peak of the tide, we were still surfing 2-foot waves, so I’d estimate that during the peak you could surf waves easily up to 10-foot high,” he says excitedly.

“I’d put this bore in the Bono category for power and size, which makes it one of the top three in the world.”

Colas estimates that the waves could be two or three times this size at peak tides. Photo: Courtesy of Antony Colas

As an added bonus, the estuary is one of the few in this part of Southeast Asia where there are no crocodiles. We are no experts, but we assume nothing puts a downer on a river-bore surf than the presence of prehistoric man-eating reptiles. The water, too, was warm and clean, and even the mosquitoes stayed away.

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“The environment is totally surfer friendly; it’s really easy to get to Rangoon [the former name of Yangon] and Myanmar is really opening up its arms to visitors,” Colas says. “And that’s without mentioning the millions of beautiful pagodas [Buddhist shrines looked after by the aforementioned monks], the tropical landscape and the wonderful human beings that live there.

“I’m already setting up a new expedition to chase the beast in full awe during the biggest of spring tides. Stay tuned.”

The river gang and their new mates. Photo: Courtesy of Antony Colas
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