Team Huntington Beach Shreds The 'Silver Dragon,' The World's Largest Tidal Bore

Team Huntington Beach Shreds The 'Silver Dragon,' The World's Largest Tidal Bore

Every year around the time of the mid-autumn full moon, a wave unlike any other in the world draws thousands of spectators to witness its arrival in the most unlikely of places—in the middle of a city on a river in China. For Huntington Beach natives Tosh Townend and Ryan Turner, surfing the world's largest tidal bore river wave, aka the "Silver Dragon," at the 2014 Red Bull Qiantang Shoot Out this month in Hangzhou, China, was an unparalleled experience and an excellent opportunity to raise the profile of HB as one of the world's top surfing communities. 

Ryan and Tosh competed in the Shoot Out on September 8th through the 11th against three other teams from "surf cities" around the world. Representing Team Honolulu, Jamie O'Brien and Jamie Sterling took home the $10,000 first place prize purse. After growing the tidal bore event from a demonstration in 2012 to a full-blown contest in 2013, the Red Bull Qiantang Shoot Out is the first surf contest of its kind and has now taken on the format of "The Battle of the Surf Cities." This year's teams and results were as follows:

  • Team Honolulu: Jamie O’Brien and Jamie Sterling ($10,000)
  • Team Gold Coast (Australia): Dean Morrison and Mikala Jones ($8,000)
  • Team Hangzhou: Toumei and Phil MacDonald ($5,000)
  • Team Huntington Beach: Ryan Turner and Tosh Townend ($2,000)

Since a move in 2009 to help promote surfing and extreme sports, international surfers have been allowed to ride the inland surging waves on the Qiantang River, which is otherwise off-limits to people. Commonly known as the Silver Dragon, the tidal bore is the world's longest inland surge. A tidal bore is when an ocean wave travels up a narrow path against the regular current of water, which usually occurs in rivers. China's Qiantang River and bay are known for the world's largest tidal bore, which can reach up to 9 meters in height and travel at speeds up to 40 km/hour. 

This year's contest boasted the biggest wave in the history of the event on the final day. It was also the first time a Chinese competitor entered the contest, which drove media attention to an all-time high. The Shoot Out brings Chinese mainstream media that normally wouldn't cover surfing or any "action sports" for that matter. Run by Wabsono International, China Action Sports Solution and leader in the development of action sports participation and lifestyle in China, this year's contest was directed by surfing legend and HB ambassador Peter "PT" Townend.

"As we considered the growth of the event, demands by our sponsors and the local authorities, we felt the need for more professional assets," says Wabsono Director Glenn Brumage, who handed the contest director reigns over to PT this year. PT was not only named the first world champion of professional surfing in 1976, he was an original founder of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach in 1994 when the OP Pro fizzled away. He's also a veteran of the action sports industry, having held numerous industry positions in his 30-year career. 

Tosh Townend (Photo courtesy of Wabsono)

Says PT, "It was probably from an international point of view the most successful [year] ever because we had the highest standard of teams, and also the wave was the biggest in the history of the event on the final day." He added, "Even Jamie O'Brien was calling it 8- to 10-foot Hawaiian, so that gives you an idea of the size it."

Just as he saw the potential in bringing world-class surfing to HB with the creation of a US Open of Surfing, PT now sees enormous potential in harnessing the action sports industry in China and bringing Chinese tourists to Huntington Beach. 

"It's exciting in my first year as event director to see it come off so successful," PT says. "One thing about this event is that it's the most unique event in the the world. There's only one event in the world held on a river bore. There are many river bores around the world, but there's none like this one," he continues. "This one has a serious wave. There's a definite degree of danger, and safety is the number one priority in executing the event."

Teamwork was key in pulling off the tow-ins and drop-offs required to surf the tidal bore. The power of the Silver Dragon as it sweeps through Hangzhou, menacing shipping in the harbor, has been known to sweep crowds of spectators off their feet, which is why the Chinese government prohibits people from going onto the river during the time of the tidal bore.

"It's pretty much your partner is your rescue," HB local, skating professional and surfer Tosh says while reflecting on the thrill of surfing the 8- to 10-foot wave, adding that even "the Jamies were calling pretty big."

Says Tosh, "The crazy part is when you're sitting there in the water and the river starts sucking out, and you feel this wave coming on. You look out and all you can see is this white line just coming at you, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. He continues, "It's just this whole essence of pretty much craziness…it's an insane feeling because you're on a river and surfing a tidal wave. It's awesome."

Partnering with Ryan was a great asset, Tosh says, crediting Ryan's experience on jet skis and his own skateboarding background in helping them navigate the power of the unique tidal bore wave. "One thing I brought to the table with Ryan Turner being my teammate is he's already known to be able to ride skis, and he's practiced on skis and towed people in," says Tosh. "That was one thing I was kind of sketched on. I've never towed or done the step offs. That's kind of where my skater mentality kicked in because skating is pretty balls to the wall. Just go for it,"

Although he did not win the event, footage of Tosh shredding the face of the Silver Dragon was seen by 20 million people on television in China.

With so much attention in China on the Silver Dragon Shoot Out, it created the perfect opportunity to raise the profile of the competing surf cities among potential Chinese tourists, explains PT. The HB Visitors Bureau, aka "Visit HB," which funded the flights for Team HB and of which PT is a member, wants to attract Chinese tourists, especially as the city approaches the 20th anniversary of the US Open of Surfing.

As official representatives of Visit HB, Ryan and Tosh's sponsored flights were part of the city's "destination marketing" objective, according to PT. "The whole mission behind Visit HB is to put heads in beds…that's where they spend money in trying to attract more people to come to Huntington Beach," he explains. 

A staggering 98.2 million Chinese tourists left China to go somewhere in the world last year, PT notes. "This is a huge opportunity for HB because out of those 98.2 million tourists that left China, a million of them came to Southern California," says PT, continuing, "And their number one and two destinations at the moment are to go to South Coast Plaza and Disneyland. So why shouldn't they put Surf City on that agenda? That's the whole idea."

Tosh, who was in China the previous month for a skating exhibition, also sees Chinese interest in action sports growing as events like the two he participated in gain momentum and peak interest.

"What they're doing is trying to build the action sports industry in China because kids that are coming up are getting more drawn to skateboarding and surfing," says Tosh. "They're kind of bringing more awareness to it and letting families and the kids know, hey, this is something you can do and have a career in."

Tosh adds, "It was cool going out there and being able to represent HB. All the surfers that were in the contest were super cool. It was a good crew to be with."

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