French filmmaker first to surf Calcutta tidal bore

A nice left pours through the Ganga. Photo Antony Yep Colas

A nice left pours through the Ganga. Photo Antony Yep Colas

French photographer Anthony "Yep" Colas is one of surfing's great surf explorers and the world expert on riding river tidal bores. He has ridden tidal bores in Brazil (Pororoca) and China (Quangchao) and discovered the Benak in Malaysia and Bono in Indonesia. He has also just released a 270-page book called “Mascaret l'Onde Lunaire” (Lunar Tidal Waves) documenting his adventures. Last year he added to his tidal bore list by being the first to surf a tidal bore in India's Ganga River, which runs through the heart of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta. A film of the mission will be out soon, with the teaser below. GrindTV caught up with Colas below and asked him what it was like to surf this tidal bore, known as “the Baan.”

What was it like surfing a river in Kolkata?
The wave was surprisingly big and fast, like a bullet train. Usual bore speeds range around 10 mph, but the Baan travels at almost 20 mph. That’s why we named it after the Autobaan, the German motorway, which has no speed limit. This speed of the bore is great for surfing, just as long as your boat can go that fast. Making overland access was another issue since Kolkata's traffic is really, really slow. So we did some surfing, but it was a reasonably short session. My partner, Steve King, the Guinness Record holder for the longest bore wave ever ridden, managed to catch a six-foot whitewater wave for over a minute on his longboard, and I did a couple of two-minutes rides on my SUP.

However, the potential is there to catch huge waves that will travel between bridges, piers, and all kinds of boats. We did find a super clean left with some length and a beefy choppy right that could clean up. There is so much more out there, and now that we have police and Port Trust permission and better boats organized; we are super keen to go back.

tidal bore

Antony travels at speed through the heart of Calcutta. Photo Antony Yep Colas

Whilst surfing in Calcutta is new, the bore isn't. This drawing from 1880 depicts the "Baan." Photo Antony Yep Colas

While surfing in Calcutta is new, the bore isn’t. This drawing from 1880 depicts the “Baan.” Photo Antony Yep Colas

How long had you been planning the mission?
Not that long. I was due to travel to Alaska's Turnagain Arm with Steve King last June. However, while doing research for my book, I found some evidence that the Hooghly Baan had not entirely been destroyed by the Farakka dam upstream. So I called Steve to see if it would be OK to switch ice for tropical heat and sweat. As a former British army officer, he was keen to check out the former Commonwealth country of India and its old capital city of Kolkata.

What was the water quality like? India's rivers aren't known for their fresh, clean water.
Well, with a population of 15 million people, including 2 million living in the streets, that doesn't help for cleanliness. When you cruise the river, you do see quite a few naked bums taking a sh*t! But there is a lot of water moving there and the monsoon rains help to wash out the mess. The Baan itself helps too, acting like a vacuum and sucking up all the debris. Our team had nine people and no one ended up being sick.

The locals have their first ever surf on the Ganga. Photo Antony Yep Colas

The locals have their first ever surf on the Ganga. Photo Antony Yep Colas

Antony negotiates the crowds of Calcutta. Photo Antony Yep Colas

Antony negotiates the crowds of Calcutta. Photo Antony Yep Colas

Where will you be heading to find the next tidal bore discovery?
Back to India. The network of tidal bores that affects the rivers in the Ganges Delta is just huge, maybe as big as the Amazon Basin. I think in the Sunderbans, the delta between Bangladesh and West Bengal province, I could go there for the next 10 years and study a different river on every trip. Kolkata is fairly easy to get to, though, but once you try to make it to the Sunderbans, then you’re talking proper wild! Out there are Bengal tigers and saltwater crocs, so that would be a real adventure.

An old map showing the Ganges Delta. Photo Antony Yep Colas

An old map showing the Ganges Delta. Photo Antony Yep Colas

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