A strong presence of the mythical and spirit worlds is felt throughout the Amazon. The legend of the wave is balanced between these worlds. On a full moon a boto (dolphin) came ashore as a suave, handsome man dressed all in white. He went to the dance and seduced the prettiest virgin, took her to the rivers bank and had his way with her. He then swam away and turned back into a boto. When the seduced ex-virgin gave birth she took her 3 black boto babies and threw them away with her shame into the river. Poroc Poroc is the furious return of the 3 botos searching for their mother. The man in white returns to seduce virgins along the river. One of the local girls told us her story of how a man dressed in white wearing a fedora had approached her during a full moon. The man had seductive powers that rendered her submissive and if her brother had not passed by to save her she would have fallen under his spell. The family took her and covered her in garlic to offend and ward off the spirits.
The villagers and tribes along the river live in a state of balance between the sprit world, myths, superstitions, legends and the encroaching outside world. There is a great deal of fear and respect for the spirit world as it is everywhere, in everything. Permission is asked before entering the river, killing for food or cutting down a tree. When asked why he was the only one to surf the wave for so long, or why he was the only one who ever had dolphins surf the same wave as him, Picuruta answered “I ask the river for permission before I enter, I ask for permission from the spirits and that I may surf the wave, that is why I surf the wave for so long.”
Its hard to imagine what your waiting for standing knee deep in mud on the river bank, trying not to think about what’s squirming near your leg and looking out at the brown water flowing languidly past. Off to the distance a dull rumble begins faintly tightening your stomach and hinting at the arrival of a supernatural force. Commotion sets in as everyone readies themselves to witness what has already been an epic build up to this point.
The Pororoca is one of the largest tidal bore waves in the world. Poroc Poroc, or the word Pororoca, depending who you talk to, means the great roar, the big din or the meeting waters. Reaching heights of over 5 meters (15 feet) at points it has been called the wave that kills by locals who are cyclically subjected to its wrath. The wave has washed out villages, sunk boats, eroded banks and killed buffalo. The waves reputation is often dramatized in folk tales but it is hard to discount the myths when you stand there listening to it approach for the first time. The wave is formed by the incoming Atlantic tide colliding, and overpowering, the out flowing river. The resulting wave moves up river at the speed of the incoming tide, averaging 15-25 kilometers per hour. The wave is most powerful during the full moon in March and April, during the rainy season nearest the spring equinox. With so many variables coming together the conditions change hastily; at one moment there may be torrential squalls of rain, the next sunny calm and glassy. As the tidal surge reaches shallower water it walls up turning a frothing wall of white wash into a nice ride able face.
Day One - The first wave
Wake up at 4:15, eat, preliminaries, on the water by 5:15. Incoming tide at 6:20.
An unspoken focus hung in the air as we loaded the boats and filed out tracing the banks of the tributary to the main river. The concentration was shattered as the boats ran aground and the dry heaving engines bucked on the transoms. We quickly learned why the boatmen sharpen their props and carry a long pole as the engines bogged out in the mud for minutes at a time. The 4 boats hacked and carved their way up the tributary, over the flood plain and into the main river before opening the engines up and maxing out those burly 25hp outboards. About 10 to 15 miles from the mouth of the Rio Araguari we banked 2 boats and tied them off out of the way of the surge to serve as pick up/support boats. Standing knee deep in mud there was a moment of reflection before the morning’s delays caught up with us and the wave rumbled around the point and came into view. Monsoon rain announced the Pororoca’s arrival and Raph, Peter and Picuruta scrambled to their boats. Within minutes the wall of white wash hit a shallow spot and a face walled up to about 8 feet. Without hesitating Picuruta jumped out of the boat, paddled into the first section and effortlessly floated down the face, laid down a drawn out bottom turn and pumped the wave; the myth was real. There are about 3-4 ride able waves in a set; there is one set per day (and one at night). Picuruta pulled over the face and paddled into the 3rd wave. Peter dropped in and adopted the condor stance until he was comfortable on this foreign wave and threw down a few smacks and introduced a little California to the Amazon. Peter rode for about 5 minutes before fading over the lip and Raph jumped into it. Raph got the wave of the day holding out for just under 10 minutes and ripping apart a few 8-foot faces before fading over and watching the wave roll on. The rain stopped, the sun came out, the surfers were picked up, it was only 7:30am.
Its odd to travel so far and get only one wave a day. We had a jet ski to tow us into the front wave but it was broken the first morning by one of the crew joyriding it minutes before we were heading out with it. He hit a sand bar, flew over the front and broke the ignition in the process. Down one ski. The mechanic worked on it and had it fixed just after we returned from the first wave. He took it out and thrashed on it up and down the river, Chico asked him to stop and he took offence to it. The mechanic quit, took the jet ski key, hid it and proceeded to get good and drunk for the rest of the day, night and the following day. We were down a jet ski for the second day.
We were back in camp with high spirits by 8 am and a whole day of hammock time ahead. We had no more than 3 hours of continuous sleep in the past 3 days so the hammock was hit hard. The rest of the day we explored the jungle, rode horses or water buffalo and of course played “football”, (soccer) Brazils pride. The nights were spent playing music, Zouk, Farro and Calypso, drinking, telling stories, eating great river foods and watching our Brazilian crew get smashed and us trying to keep up.
Day 2 - Morning after the full moon
Up by 4:15, out by 5:30, incoming tide 6.45am
The previous nights heavy rains and the full moons tidal pull rose the water in the river enough to have a smooth ride out to the wave with minimal bottoming out. We went closer to the rivers mouth and had the time to properly prepare for wave with a mud fight. Another boat pulled up with about 5 local kids in it, 2 of which we brought as part of our crew. We heard the wave rumbling about 15 minutes before we saw the wall of white wash stretching across the river.
Peter jockeyed for position as the other boat pulled into the wave and 3 of the local kids set up and dropped in. Everyone was on top of each other and the boat driver kept telling Peter to go or he would miss the take off so Peter dropped into a gong show of guys paddling all over each other and no one catching the wave. Peter rolled over the top of the set and sat there spewing for 15 minutes before the pick up boats got to him. If you miss the wave that’s it for the day, the next set is in 24 hours. Raph dropped in to the front wave and rode for about 4 minutes on a choppy face before dropping back to the second wave and ripping up a clean wave for just under 10 minutes, Picuruta passed over the 1st wave and dropped into the second riding for just over 10 minutes, a warm up for the long distance rider.
The ride back was spent spewing about the intrusion of local surfers kooking it up while we were there to accomplish our mission. The reality of the situation seeped in and gave way to a debate on localism and the fact that we are visitors to this amazing place and that we should leave our attitudes and excess baggage at out home breaks. A round of apologies by everyone eased the tension and helped us realize why we are here.
Day Three - The Day
6am wake up, 6:45 on the water, 7:25 wave.
The wave became larger for the 2-3 days after the full moon. We were finally able to talk to the mechanic and get him back on board after he sobered up and relinquished control of the jet ski key. The film crew had a heli on sight and all 4 boats worked; it was already a good day. The sun was out and the waves were glassy, at least as glassy as they got with logs and debris floating all over. Raph towed Peter into the first wave with the jet ski and he tore it up for just under 10 minutes. Picuruta dropped into the foam, popped up and rode onto the face. Raph pulled Peter back around into the 1st wave and whipped him into the wave with Picuruta. They syncro surfed the wave for about 10 minutes before fatigue caught up and Peter faded over the back. Picuruta continued strong on the wave with over 15 minutes under his belt holding the trip record to this point. The wave rolled on and Picuruta kept on it riding it hard. After 30 minutes from when he dropped in we had to do a double check on our watch to believe how long he had been on it. The helicopter followed him as he rode the wave past the 10km mark. At 38 minutes the wave started to mush out and Picuruta laid down on his board, rode for awhile on his stomach and pulled off into the bank, stumbled around in the mud and starfished onto his back, exhausted but redeemed; the longest ridden wave record on the Rio Araguari had a new boss.
The few remaining days on the river we spent exploring. We went to a few villages and met with the locals to talk with them about the wave, life on the river and life outside of the jungle. We found that the first surfers in 1997 demonstrated that the wave could be tamed and since there has been a brave few locals emerge to surf the Pororoca. A young boy hand carved a surfboard from hardwood and tied a nylon rope to it for a leash. In a neighboring village across the river a boy rode the wave on a flat bottom canoe and others in dugout canoes. Picuruta has a strong connection to the area and the friends he has made over the years. He is in the works of starting a program that will provide the local residents with boards and equipment to surf the wave and breed a whole new generation of Brazilian surfers.
Over the 5 days spent on the river surfing the wave it is astounding to add up the ride times. Picuruta was around 80 minutes, Raph 55 and Pete 43 minutes cumulative wave time. If you surfed a couple of hours everyday you would have to surf a few seasons to log the same ride time as one week surfing the Pororoca.
We packed up, loaded up the locals with heaps of schwag, tools and toys before heading back up river to start another 3 days of travel. Sitting on the roof of the boat, dirty, smelly and accomplished everything that makes a good surf trip was around us; a few drinks, good company, stories and waves ridden. It only takes a momentary look around at the grandeur of the Amazon to realize that the Poroc Poroc is not an ordinary surf trip, it is a phenomenal trip.
We are still waiting for the boats to clear customs.
Brazil - Surfing the Pororoca Part 1 ♠ Part 2