For many years I’ve wanted to get to the Bitches, the famous tidal playwave spot in South-West Wales that hosted the inaugural world rodeo freestyle event, back in the day when the boats were metres long and pop-outs, paddle-twirls and fluorescent colours were all the rage. Being warned that my carbon Black Sheep wouldn’t surive being seal-launched, and with the tide being about 6.5m, the Rockstar probably wasn’t the boat to take either so I asked Aaron at Squarerock if I could borrow the Jackson FunRunner I took to the Grand Canyon, this long boat would make a perfect surf vessel.
I finally managed to find a weekend that I had free, with fine weather and a reasonable sized tide, brought along a few friends and left London at 7:30pm and arrived at the campsite after traversing the entire length of the M4 motorway, following the road until it turned into a country lane stopping just shy of the life-boat ramp into the sea and set up camp at 1am.
An early rise to catch the morning tide and we met the other hoards of paddlers who had made the pilgrimage. I had been warned to expect a long paddle and told it can be a long slog, but with fairly light winds it was fairly easy to paddle up along the coast until the flow the sea stopped us going any further. From there it was a fairly easy ferry across the first of the Bitches rocks and then an eddy hop across the eddy lines to the main Bitches rock.
Not to detract from the amazing experience but it wasn’t as far or remote as I expected, it was fairly easy to get there and it was much friendlier than I imagined it would be. No nasty swirly eddies or whirlpools at the main wave, if you’ve been to Hurley on 2 or 3 gates then you’ll experience nothing new in terms of challenge, just a different kind of adventure. With a good group who can deep-water rescue if you do have a swim then it’s easy to get back to the wave. It’s a great place to experience a big play wave for those that haven’t been before. Although having said all this, different conditions, weather, swells could make it a very different experience!
The scenery is absolutely stunning. You’re in the Pembrokeshire National Park, right next to Ramsey Island, a RSPB nature reserve, and even though we had a fairly cloudy day but the views were stunning. I’m really glad I had my camera and managed to get some awesome shots, bringing along a photographer was nice as I actually got some nice photos of me for a change too!
The wave is super-smooth, pure, glassy and fast. I was glad I was in a long boat, and enjoyed just carving around and spinning, a short playboat would have been fun for a ride or two but you can get so much more out of the experience in a longer boat, and at one point I laid my paddle along my boat and just surfed with my hands in the water, hand steering the boat in the carving turns. There’s nothing quite like the smooth feeling of glassy green water rushing through your hands. For non-kayakers the nearest thing I could compare it to would be powder skiing/boarding, but on an endless wave.
The paddle back was choppy but we got passed the infamous Horse Rock, even with having to do a lightning speed deep-water rescue of a friend who was having his first serious kayaking trip. I can imagine with a strong wind this ferry glide could be much much harder and it’s somewhere that deserves respect, the speed at which Horse Rock whirlpools approached was staggering, as soon as you see the hints of the rapid you’re alongside it and then passed it, treat it with care!
The photo below is not Horse Rock, see the map at the end.
The tide had changed and the wave wasn’t working so we spent the rest of the day exploring Pembrokeshire, I hadn’t realised just how close you are to a ‘City’, St David’s the smallest city in the UK, possible the world? So after paddling in the morning you can pop in to town and have some food (lots of places for Ice-cream!) and then go explore the beautiful coastline around white-sands bay. Stunning cliffs, deep blue seas, seals, dolphins and rocks to go bouldering on, there’s so much here next time I come I’m going to spend a few days here exploring.
During the night the winds picked up and blew in a bit of surf onto Whitesands beach, at the far end of the beach I found some nice sized waves to take my old Jackson Rockstar out in and get some nice air blunts and throw a few airscrews.
A perfect weekend away, lots of paddlers in the local pub and lots of potential adventure to come back and explore. I thoroughly recommend keeping an eye out for the big tides 6.5m+ and digging out an old long boat and heading out there. The new Jackson Fun would be a great ‘shorter’ boat to take there.
I found the time to get the ND filter out on the camera and take some proper photos including this one below which I feel is one of my best so far. There was so much colour in the sky, on the rocks, so much richness in the water and the camera really struggled to capture this, so some heavy Photoshopping was required to bring it to life.
The Bitches tidal Rapid, Wales
I put together this map from Google which shows where everything is, as I would have found it a little bit useful.
Article by: Dave Wortley