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Barrel On The Dordogne Courtesy Fabrice Colas And Phillipe Garrigues Title screen to the TV Documentary, Courtesy Jaws of the Dragon
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A pan of Hangzhou Bay.
Jaws of the Dragon
'Zhejiang province in Eastern China is one of the country's most prosperous regions. It owes it's affluence to the water's of the Qiantang river, the lifeblood of Zhejiang. The Qiantang feeds the fertile lands around it for 500 miles down to the East China Sea. Local farmers know it's ways well for it can be both a blessing and a curse. Every month around the time of the full moon, the river's strange behaviour confirms a local suspicion. That, this is the home of a fearful spirit...'
The Chinese call it the Silver Dragon, and it is the largest tidal bore (178 KB) in the world. The Guiness Book of Records states, 'at spring tides the wave attains a height of 7.5 m and a speed of 24-27 km/h.' In the twelth and thirteenth centuries, suicidal surfers would ride the bore on small planks of wood, in an attempt to placate the dragon's wrath. It has wreaked havoc in the country side (195 KB), killing many thousands. It was only in 1988 that the Chinese finally permitted strangers on the Qiantang when the dragon roared.

Four years earlier, Stuart Matthews and a team from England, had been refused their request to ride the bore. In September 1988, the Chinese government gave the English team their full blessing, and the scene was set.

The Team
Stuart Matthews, Principle Surfer
Andy Long, Surfing Advisor Fred Larkham, Principle Boat Driver
'It must be the ultimate challenge, the everest in surfing. Nobody has taken a conventional surfboard out there before, i'll be the first.'
Stuart Matthews
Map of the Hangzhou Bay, Click To Enlarge But the river is not without it's hazards, as Stuart discovered in the local museum. A twemty seven foot moray eel, that had been hauled out of the river, had been sliced open to reveal a five foot chinese man!
The first reconaissance did not appear favourable, as the team surveyed the dragon's ferocity in the constricting channel upstream of Yanguan Town, in Haining. The wave was not yet at it's peak, but was certainly something more than they had expected. Stuart decided the conditions were not quite right for surfing. The risks were too high...

Attempt Number One...Click To View Enlargements 'We saw a ten foot wave out there and that's the small one. Behind that it was fifteen feet and there was an enormous hole. The size of the wave matters in increments of fear, but the most important thing is the safety of the shape of the wave. If the wave's a shape where I can handle it, then I know in my own mind that I can handle it. If it's just going to crash down (181 KB) like that, then there's no way you could ride it.'

'We feel there are places upstream, where in fact the bore dose lose a bit of it's power, but, we can ride it. Just not here!'

Stuart Matthews
The following morning, the tail of a typhoon striking Hong Kong, five hundred miles to the south, swept through the province. It was too dangerous to be on the water, and there was little the team could do but discuss their tactics one more time.

Attmept Number Two...Click To View Enlargements And so, it was left to the morning of the 18th of September, in the Chinese lunar calender, for the team to attempt to placate the dragon. It was an official public holiday, and the banks of the river were lined with a quarter of a million people, who had come to pay homage to the Dragon, just as they had done for centuries.
Once in the water, Stuart was scopped up ferociously by the bore, and engulfed in the Jaws of the Dragon. Against the odds, he managed to stand up and ride the Qiantang bore for eleven seconds, at which point he decided he'd done enough. Then, disaster struck for Fred Larkham, Andy Long and Nick Shipley in the camera boat.

'Fred Larkham knows the dragon is snapping at their heels, but at the critical moment his boat refuses to respond to the throttle.'
BBC News

The crew were tossed from the boat, and Nick's camera was ripped from his hands, swallowed up by the Dragon, and his footage was lost. Thanks to the quick reactions of John Biddell, driving the support boat, everyone survived the ordeal in one piece, their pride slightly dented.

'There's omens, we're in China and these guys are highly superstitious. We got hammered today. We've ridden the bore. I think we should call it a day!..'
Stuart Matthews
'You've got to treat it with respect. There's a colossal amount of water and it's moving very fast. I would say twice as fast as the Severn Bore. But I think the wave's rideable...'
Fred Larkham
'I think it's a magic wave, it really is. But you have got to treat it with a great deal of respect. I'm wondering if we treated it with enough...'
John Biddell
At the time of writting (October 2001), no one else has yet attempted to surf the Qiantang Dragon. However, there are many plans in the pipeline to placate the dragon's wrath again in the not too distant future...
All stills and animations courtesy Jaws Of The Dragon documentary, 1988.
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