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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Surfing the Brown Wave in Brazil: The Amazon’s Pororoca

Surfing in the Brazilian Amazon begins with practitioners in the river, waist-deep in brown water, and a clap that starts the challenge: riding the “Pororoca,” one of the most admired and feared waves in the world.

The Pororoca, which means “great noise” in the Tupi-Guarani indigenous language, is a phenomenon that occurs twice a year when oceanic waters from the Atlantic meet the currents of the Amazonian rivers during high tide and push them in the opposite direction.

In Arari, a city of 30,000 inhabitants in the state of Maranhao (northeastern Brazil), the freshwater wave usually manifests itself in March and September, during full and new moon days, as a brownish avalanche up to four meters high that runs twice a day along the Mearim River.

“The Pororoca has a different energy from any other wave, a special connection with nature. Riding it, in a relationship of respect with it, is wonderful, fantastic,” says 29-year-old Ernesto Madeira, who has been surfing in the Amazon for seven years.

Like him, thousands of surfers from the region and other parts of Brazil come to the Amazonian rivers for this unconventional challenge, many accustomed to surfing waves in open sea.

In the past, the Pororoca was mythologized by locals as a monster because its passage usually floods low-lying lands adjacent to the river course, causing disruptions.

Riding it is very different from surfing a sea wave, its enthusiasts emphasize. Its obstacles are also different: from tree trunks or loose branches under the water to unwanted encounters with yacar├ęs (a kind of crocodile) or anacondas.

“The adrenaline increases when we are in the water and we hear the wave approaching. At that moment, we always think about getting out of the water, but it’s already too late,” confesses 40-year-old Teognides Queiroz, while squatting to apply wax to his board before entering the Mearim River.

Ritual collective

River surfing is practiced as a collective ritual, with practitioners encouraging each other and swimming together on their boards until they find a good spot to wait for the wave. That’s how it is in the Amazon: collective over individualism of traditional surfing, says Queiroz.

“We’re all on the same wave, each encouraging the other,” he explains.

In Arari, the Pororoca is also becoming a tourist attraction.

Although the waves are not as high as those in the sea, they can last almost an hour until they completely disintegrate, with an average speed of 30 kilometers per hour.

“I managed to ride it, it was worth it,” says 18-year-old Carlos Ferreira, happy to have been able to tame the Pororoca a few minutes before, moving forward thanks to his strength in the Mearim.

“It’s quite adrenaline-inducing,” explains the young man, while hugging his orange board with green details, still soaked.

“It’s a good feeling in the body. It can’t be explained.”

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