Surfing the pororoca

When you can hear that huge sound behind, and that’s that wave coming – oh man, you get really scared, because you don’t know what’s coming! You can’t see; you can just hear that sound, and hear the animals screaming like they’re scared of it.

In the ancient Amazonian language of Tupi, pororoca translates as ‘great destructive noise’. To world-class surfer Picuruta Salazar, it is ‘without a doubt the best wave that God has put on this planet.’ Clearly, the pororoca demands a little attention…

When surfers first went to surf the pororoca in 1996, the locals, in tears, pleaded with them not to do it. Naturally, they tend to keep a respectful distance from this legendary monster, which occurs when the full moon causes the Atlantic Ocean to thunder up the Amazon river. This tidal wave rolls in once a day and once a night for a period of about three weeks, every year around February/March. The crashing, churning wall of water can reach up to four metres high, travelling 13 km inland, and dashing any trees and houses in its path to smithereens.

Surfing the pororoca

It was not just the sheer force of the water that made the villagers weep. They knew about the piranhas, the snakes and the small catfish that swims up your urethra and lodges itself there. They knew about the crocodiles.

Of course, surfers being surfers, heatstruck and high on malaria pills, they went ahead and surfed it anyway. Put your feet up for 25 minutes and watch Bill Heath’s 2003 documentary about one such adventure, Pororoca: Surfing the Amazon. Look past the murky resolution, and you’ll discover a beautiful film following a group of surfers who travel for days into the depths of the jungle to battle one great wave.

The narrative poetically captures the myth and suspense that surrounds the coming of the pororoca:

After travelling for days, and nights under the full moon, we arrive at a river bend. This is as far as the Eldorado can safely go. We hope that this little cove will give us enough shelter from the pororoca at night.

This place is so incredibly remote. You feel it all around you. You feel the weight of the place, with all its sounds. You feel the thousand miles of living mass around you, pushing against you. I think it being a full moon further amplifies that feeling, so you don’t get much sleep.

Brazilian Picuruta Salazar was one of the surfers not getting much sleep. That year he set the record for surfing the pororoca, riding the wave for 37 minutes through the jungle.

PororocaPicuruta Salazar surfing the pororoca

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Mara Rubin says:

I loved the description of the voyage to the site of the pororoca and the moment when the person hears the destructive sound. Very poetic,really.