River Waves and Micro Art

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by Gayle Young
Series Producer

Sometimes we come upon stories for our series Nat Geo Amazing through convoluted routes. One of our contributors from Kenya told us about a guy from New Zealand who was planning to surf a tidal bore in China. It took producer April Chabries a few weeks and many phone calls to track everything down, but the video is worth it. A group of international surfers gathered in Hangzhou to catch a tidal wave that rolls up the Quintang River only once each year, when the moon is full around the fall equinox. The wave is massive — and it goes up the river for miles. If the surfer falls, he has to take his board and get on a jet ski, speed past the wave and catch it again. This same phenomenon has sometimes ended in tragedy. We found heart-stopping video of a wave from a previous year that engulfed bystanders along the river, sweeping them off the embankment in a swirl of muddy brown water. Fortunately no one in that incident was killed. And for the surfers, it was a rare, bizarre opportunity to catch a perfect wave — in a river.

In this episode we also profile one of the world’s most unique artists. I met Willard Wigan at the Parrish Gallery in Georgetown, during the opening of an exhibition of his micro art. His works are so small that they’re placed under microscopes — otherwise it would be impossible to even see them. The family of President Obama in the eye of a needle. Homer strangling Bart on the head of a pin. A caravan of camels no larger than grains of sand. We followed Wigan back to Birmingham to see how he does it. Willard has multiple learning disabilities and says he still struggles with Asperger’s syndrome today. When he was a child, this guy was so humiliated by his teachers that he says he identified with ants, because he felt small and helpless. So he started making little houses and furniture for them, and his works kept getting tinier and tinier, until they were microscopic. He has freakishly steady hands and extreme patience. Seeing how he creates these intricate sculptures on a molecular level is truly absorbing. Also it’s sweet how he feels vindicated. Despite predictions from his teachers that he’d never amount to anything, he’s gone on to become internationally recognized and extremely wealthy.

All of our shows are packed with fascinating stories that are short, fast and engaging. But they also have all of the arcane details we love at National Geographic.

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