River thrill surfers set on collision course with jet-ski jumpers

Adam Sage in Paris

div#related-article-links p a, div#related-article-links p a:visited {color:#06c;}The free-and-easy world of surfing has lost its cool after a move to regulate one of Europe's most popular rides down the tidal bore on the Dordogne River.

A new bylaw has split surfers, infuriated jet-skiers and alarmed restaurant and hotel owners, who are afraid of losing custom attracted by the trendiest river sport in France.
The law divides the river into sections reserved for surfing or jet-skiing - and it has been greeted as an unpardonable affront by practitioners of both sports.
Although the impact will be limited in practice, with surfers still able to ride a 1.5 metre high wave along the Dordogne at 10mph for up to 20 minutes, they are treating it as a threat to a fundamental freedom.
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Annie Desjean, who runs le Café du Port at Saint Pardon on the Dordogne, said the regulation could kill the “spirit of liberty” associated with surfing. French authorities said that rules were necessary to prevent accidents after a massive increase in the number of people wanting to surf the waves which travel upstream along the Gironde estuary into the Dordogne during particularly high tides. The ride, pioneered by a handful of adventurers in the 1980s, now draws hundreds of surfers and thousands of spectators.
A total of 391 surfboards were recorded on a 50m width of river last summer when the tidal bore, known as the Mascaret, was at its height. Travelling in the other direction were dozens of jet-skiers.

“The danger is obvious,” said Florence Garnier, the regional head of Voies Navigables de France, the body that manages French waterways. “We can't go on letting surfers carried by the wave cross jet-skiers going the other way who want to jump it. It's a question of common sense.”

Christian Rollet, the chairman of the Mascaret Association, which seeks to unite Dordogne river users, agreed. “Regulation was obligatory. We were heading for a catastrophe.”

But Olivier Desagnat, a surfer from Asques, a village on a section of the river now reserved for jet-skiing, said: “If some river users behave badly they should be kicked off. On the roads, it doesn't seem to me that the State reserves certain sections for speedsters.”

Feelings are running high because the Gironde estuary boasts one of Europe's two best tidal bores, along with the Severn in Britain.