By Michelle Theriault Boots
4:14 PM AKDT, May 23, 2011
For most, the Turnagain Arm bore tide is an Alaskan phenomenon to watch from a safe distance -- say, a highway pullout on the shoulder of the Seward Highway.
But for Scott Dickerson and his friends, Cook Inlet's tidal bore -- one of the world's most extreme -- begs to be surfed.
It’s hard to describe what that feels like, says Dickerson, a Homer-based photographer, entrepreneur and pioneer of Alaska’s surfing scene who has surfed the bore tide several times in the past week.
After riding it for the first time in September of 2010 -- his photos documenting the ride received international play on websites in the UK and beyond -- Dickerson says he developed a major case of what he calls "bore fever."
Ice chunks make it impossible to ride in the winter, but Dickerson and some friends set out last week to take advantage of 25-foot tidal differentials.
Dickerson and his friends ride paddle surfboards, which are broader and more stable than regular ones.
"Without a stand-up paddleboard, it's a short, marginal ride at best," he says.
They first tried to launch from Hope, on a blustery day. The ride was more of a thrashing, he says, with gray, silt-churned water and unrelenting winds.
Out on the water, it’s a surreal, unforgettable ride for even the most experienced surfer, Dickerson says.
The unbroken wall of water can carry surfers for much longer than an explosive ocean wave break.
Dickerson and friends once stayed on for five miles – a ride of about 45 minutes.
"Your feet cramp up it’s so long," he says. "It’s a surfers dream come true."
At times, surfers ride on only a few inches of water – because they are sitting on the tip of the giant flush of tide racing down the narrow arm. Sometimes he was pushed over to the side of the channel – on the sand but in the wave at the same time.
A large range between high and low tides – up to 35 feet in Cook Inlet – causes the bore tide.
According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the geography of the slender Turnagain Arm maximizes the tide’s potential, resulting in waves between 2-6 feet high that can travel up to 15 mph. A big one can sound not like a train rumbling through.
The Turnagain Arm tide is site of one of the most extreme tides on earth, along with the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.
It's just plain hard to put the experience into words, says Dickerson. Luckily he can capture images.
“That’s why I’m a photographer,” Dickerson says. “It’s hard to talk about this stuff, but it’s pretty easy to show in pictures."
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