By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – For most of us in the Southern hemisphere the autumnal equinox on March 20th signifies little more than the gentle shifting of seasons. For the residents of the Amazon basin however, it announces the arrival of a much more ominous threat – the indomitable pororoca or ‘mighty roar’.

Brazilian pro-surfer and journalist Serginho Laus riding the big wave in the Amazon, photo by Ricardo Bravo/www.ricardobravo.com.br.

The pororoca is a massive wave (or ‘tidal bore’) that happens when the force of the tide overpowers the force of the water discharging at the mouth of a river. A huge swell forms which advances up-stream from the mouth of the Amazon with a thundering roar, sweeping up anything in its path – flora and fauna, and even whole trees and houses. The phenomenon is most pronounced during the full moon closest to the March equinox, when tides are at their highest.

Besides the colossal, 16km-wide bore that thunders up the Amazon River itself, a number of secondary bores occur in the river’s tributaries. The most elusive of these is the Guajara pororoca which forms an incredible 150km inland from the sea, deep in the heart of the jungle.

For extreme surfers and wave-surf kayakers, the lure of waves that last for hours and the novelty of surfing through the jungle are too tempting to resist. Last year Brazilian pro-surfer and journalist Serginho Laus set a new world record for distance surfing with an uninterrupted 11.3 km ride over thirty minutes on the Araguari pororoca in Amapá state.

Surfing the tidal bore of the amazon, photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons License.
Surfing a tidal bore, photo by 'the sea the sea' Flikr/Creative Commons License.

But pororoca surfing is not for the faint hearted, nor the inexperienced. Waves have been recorded to reach speeds of up to 30km/hr and 4m in height. They are tumultuous and unpredictable, altering in speed and size with every bend in the river.

What’s more, the water itself plays host to a variety of dangerous critters including piranhas, cayman, anacondas and the fearsome candiru or ‘vampire fish’, fabled for its disagreeable habit of swimming up the human urethra and latching onto arteries deep inside the body. Uprooted tree trunks and other riverside debris are amongst the additional hazards surfers must face.

What was once a source of terror for indigenous Amazonians has now become something of tourist attraction, gathering surf enthusiasts from around the globe. In 1999 the inaugural National Pororoca Surfing Championship was held in the small town of São Domingos do Capim on the Rio Guama. In recent years the event has expanded to become the Brazilian National Pororoca Surfing Circuit and includes additional contests on the rivers Araguari and Mearim, vibrant street fairs, performances and even a Miss Pororoca beauty pageant.

This year the festival in São Domingos do Capim runs from the 27th of March to the 2nd of April. To get there take a bus from Belem and transfer at Castanhal, where a newly paved road takes you directly to São Domingos. For more information or help planning your trip contact the state tourist board ‘Paratur’ at www.paraturismo.pa.gov.br or telephone (91) 3212-0575, 8AM-6PM Monday to Friday.

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