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Pororoca: Surfing the Amazon

| posted on July 22, 2010

Mention the Amazon and the imagination begins to roam. With so much mystery surrounding the world’s greatest tropical rainforest and the mysterious river that bisects it, truth and fiction begin to intertwine until only first-hand experience can be believed. Lost tribes, man-eating fish, pink dolphins and now stories of the world’s longest wave. Was it real? And would “Iemanja,” the Queen of the Waters and the keeper of the Amazon’s secrets, allow us access? In the spring of 2003, Picuruta Salazar and I were sent by Red Bull Brazil to find out.

The approximately 21 hours of travel time divided between airplanes, bus and cattle boat hardly leaves you in a state to confront all of the obstacles that lay before you. In the water are piranha, stingrays and the spiny Candiru or “vampire” fish that can swim up the urethra (yeah, that urethra) and lodge itself permanently. And on the banks of the river amid the bamboo groves lurk poisonous snakes, crocodiles, jungle cats, anaconda and, deeper in the jungle, savage howler monkeys and through this prehistoric zoo travels the two-meter wave capable of overpowering anything in its way.

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We came to ride a wave that allegedly travels for almost 15 kilometers along a three-kilometer-wide rivermouth before regrouping at a bend in the river and continuing for another 10 kilometers. The wave is created by the extreme tidal changes from low to high and is called the “Pororoca,” an indigenous word meaning “thundering noise” describing its incoming roar. The phenomenon occurs in most of the rivermouths in this part of the world, but the wave that breaks in the mouth of the Araguri River produces a world-class ride. You only get one wave per daylight so navigating all the banks, approximating the next sections and knowing where and when to jump from the boat makes it all the more challenging. Even after two trips last year, we only saw and rode seven waves.

Arriving again in March, one year later and better equipped with jet skis, new boats, a doctor and pro surfers Ross Clarke-Jones, Carlos Burle, Eraldo Guieros and young Sininho, we were up for the challenge again. On each day of the seven-day trip, we surfed a perfect pointbreak-type wave varying from two to three meters as the moon went through her tidal phases.