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Nova Scotia is the only place in the world you can raft this raging river beast

Taryn Hayes was heading straight into a wall of water, her knuckles white as she gripped the raft’s hand line. “I was staring at this giant wave. Then we busted through it. The whole raft was submerged,” recalls the 37-year-old Waverley, N.S., resident.

Hayes’s first tidal bore rafting trip on the Shubenacadie River was an adrenaline-pumping experience that she’ll never forget.

Bore is an old Norse term for wave, and the river, which runs 72 kilometres (about 45 miles), from central Nova Scotia to Cobequid Bay at the upper end of the Bay of Fundy, is the only place in the world you can saddle such a powerful tidal event.

“I was out with a group of women from my gym,” says Hayes. “We were rolling, going up and down. There were butterflies in my stomach. Then we smashed through the wave. Afterwards, I could barely uncurl my fingers from holding on so tight.”

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There are several rafting tour operators along the Shubenacadie River that typically start taking groups out in May through to October.Riley Smith/The Globe and Mail

As shocking as the slap of water was initially, the women found themselves laughing, shouting and wanting to come back for more. “It was pretty intense, but so much fun,” she says.

Riding the river since 2017, the construction company administrator has made the activity a regular outing. “I go out every summer,” she notes, and she has introduced her husband and children to the activity.

No special gear needed is needed; life jackets are provided by the rafting companies and safety instructions include how to hang on and lean into the boat to avoid being popped into the maelstrom.

Ability to swim is recommended, but not obligatory, and minimum weight is 50 lbs (23 kilograms).

The tides from the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world. Water rises vertically up to 16 meters (almost 50 feet) and horizontally the range is up to 5 kilometres (3 miles). This results in an almost tsunami effect on the Shubenacadie River, with a surge of rushing tidal water and waves that can be more than 3 meters high (about 10 feet).

Licia and Steve Elder own Tidal Bore Rafting Resort located, near Urbania, N.S. Along with accommodation in 14 pine chalets, they offer two-and-a-half and four-hour guided river experiences. Each raft holds eight guests plus a guide.

Open this photo in gallery:

Tidal rafter Taryn Hayes by the Shubenacadie River. Every summer, she tackles the tidal bore: “We were rolling, going up and down. There were butterflies in my stomach,” she says of her first adventure.Riley Smith/The Globe and Mail

“We guarantee you will get wet,” says Licia. The couple, who are in their 50s and 60s, bought the business six years ago as a retirement project. By scheduling outings at regular, high and extreme tides, they provide guests with three levels of thrills.

“The biggest ride is during extreme tides,” explains Steve, a former engineer in aerospace defense who now takes groups out throughout the May-October season. He notes that average waves are around 2 meters (6.5 feet) but on extreme days they can double in size.

“When we start, the river appears to be emptying into the ocean. We disembark on a sandbar and people play frisbee or kick a soccer ball around.”

When the water begins to flow in, a low-frequency rushing sound alerts the guide to get everyone back in the raft.

At first it’s little waves, but in the blink of an eye it’s over your head and it feels like you are in a washing machine” ”

-Steve Elder, owner Tidal Bore Rafting Resort

Life jackets are provided by rafting companies and safety instructions include how to hang on and lean into the boat when a huge waves hits. Mud-sliding on the shores of the river is an exuberant part of the experience.
Noelle Beaver

Tidal Bore Rafting Resort

“At first, it’s little waves, but in the blink of an eye it’s over your head and it feels like you are in a washing machine. The rushing sound turns into a roar,” he explains.

That’s when it’s time to face the waves. “We meet them at a 90-degree angle. It’s like going up a hill, you’re looking at the sky, then down at the water,” Steve explains.

The raft designed to withstand a tidal bore’s pounding is the Zodiac Futura Mk3. Made in France, it is sold locally by Seamasters Marine Services in Dartmouth, N.S.

“They are semi-rigid with an inserted floor and frame that allows the keel flexibility when a wave hits,” explains Glen Cairns, a sales associate who specializes in inflatables and has worked in the marine business for 35 years. The 4.5-metre-long vessels (about 15 feet) are almost two meters wide, can handle more than 1,000 kilograms in weight (2,200 lbs.), and are exceptionally buoyant. “They can take on tonnes of water and are easy to get back into if you go over the side,” says Cairns.

Not that unwanted ejection happens often. What is guaranteed, though, is a chance to slide down the river’s silky, smooth mud banks and clean off with a swim after.

“People love it as much as the rafting,” says Emmett Blois. The 34-year-old owner of Shubie River Wranglers rafting company, located on the Shubenacadie River at Green Oaks, N.S., has been riding the bore since he was 12. He notes you shouldn’t wear white or go out with anything you can’t afford to lose.

“We tell guests not to bring cell phones, wallets, keys, flip flops or sunglasses. The river will take everything and not give it back.”

This tidal bore is a difficult beast, but one well worth tackling.

“It’s Nova Scotia’s craziest adventure,” says Blois. “No one who comes here should miss it.”

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