Text: Nathalie Landry
Editing: Monique Arsenault
Photos and videos: Georges Brun and Charles LeGresley, with contributions from Melvin Perez.
Music: Les Païens
Melvin Perez with Petitcodiac Riverkeeper President Pierre Landry.
Costa Rica native and new Moncton resident Melvin Perez has a special relationship with the Petitcodiac River. He has seen its power and beauty firsthand, from a place not many citizens have ever been.
From the inside.
“You get a whole new perspective of the city. It kind of feels like you are in this canyon looking up at the river banks and the mud. You feel the power of the waves. The river is truly alive.”
Perez was one of the pioneers to surf the Petitcodiac’s tidal bore. An avid surfer in his home country, he arrived in Moncton in 2012 and was quickly intrigued by our tidal bore.
“My wife is from New Brunswick and we had lived together in Costa Rica in a small beach town called Tamarindo for almost 11 years. After a while, she was missing her home, so we decided to give Moncton a try. I missed surfing a lot, it was a big part of my life. I knew about the river, that it had a high tide and low tide, but it wasn’t until one day when I was riding my bike by the path next to it that I saw this wave come in, going about the same speed as my bike. I immediately thought to myself “Oh my God, what is this?”. That’s when I learned about the tidal bore. I was very excited and started telling everybody that there was a potential to surf this wave. Why wasn’t anybody surfing?”
Of course, people told Perez his idea was crazy. He would get stuck in the mud, they said, or the water was polluted.
Discouraged, Perez, who is a bartender at the Chateau Moncton, had to be content just to watch the tidal bore roll in everyday. He would watch, mesmerized, finding in the phenomenon a bit of familiarity and comfort.
“It’s kind of funny. Here I was in my new town, working right next to the wave coming in everyday, just like when I was in Costa Rica, working right next to the ocean.”
As fate would have it, it was thanks to his job “next to the wave” that Perez would meet Californian surfers JJ Wessels and Colin Whitbread in July 2013.
“One night, I saw these guys come in with surfboards at the hotel, checking in. I immediately went to greet them and asked them if they were headed down to Halifax to surf at Lawrencetown. They told me no, that they were actually in Moncton to surf the wave here.”
Intrigued, Perez decided to jump on the occasion.
“I knew I couldn’t ride the entire 29 km with them. I hadn’t surfed in so long and I was not ready for that. So I decided I would start near the Chateau Moncton and wait for the bore to come in there.”
Perez says the first experience was incredible. Word had gotten out and he was surprised to see an audience when he headed out to the river the next day.
“I was full of adrenaline. There were so many people watching. When that first wave came in, I was so nervous that I fell. Looking to my left, I could see the big wave right next to me with the Californian surfers and the sea-doos. It was just unreal.”
Perez was hooked. He kept going down to the river time and time again over the course of the week, determined to catch the tidal bore’s wave and surf it for as long as he could. He kept going, even when all the other surfers left town.
“Some months, I would be out on the river many times, some months less, depending on how strong the bore was. At times, I would have the entire river to myself. Sometimes, I would see people riding their bikes or walking along the path and they would stop and wave at me, clap and cheer me on. Some people wanted to take pictures with me. It’s a nice feeling to see the citizens realizing that their river is very much alive.”
Perez has now surfed the tidal bore 43 times. He tries to surf it longer each time.
Surfing the tidal bore is also very different than surfing ocean waves, which is part of the big draw Perez now sees in our river for the surfing community.
“This wave is different. First of all, you know at what time it is coming, so you can plan ahead. But you never know how strong it is going to be. And the adrenaline is incredible, because there is only one wave and you do not want to miss it.”
He warns that surfing the bore is not for the inexperienced.
“Sometimes, the wave is not that big. You have to be careful. I have seen rocks, wood, garbage and metal things. I have had my foot stuck among some rocks when trying to get down to the river or come out of it. The current can be very strong and it never stops. You have to know where you can safely exit the river. This is not a place to learn how to surf.”
He sees the renewed interest in the Petitcodiac river through surfing as a good thing and hopes that the City will be prompted to continue work on the restoration of the river, so that it can flow like before and have better water quality. He also hopes that the river will not end up being too crowded.
“The river is now part of my life here in Moncton. It’s a beautiful wonder that we have right here.”