It is 4:15 am and no one has trouble getting out of the hammock. This is the moment that we traveled over 60 hours in 6 days to realize. Our small aluminum boats wind up a shallow tributary with baited anticipation like a procession in the stillness of dawn. The Amazon looms around us in shadows as the spirits tempt us further towards the river.
Peter Mel, Raph Bruhwiler and Picuruta Salazar have come together from 3 different countries to surf what has been disputed as the longest ride-able wave in the world. “Poroc Poroc”, the “Great roar” in Tupy Guarany, or the Pororoca is a seasonal tidal bore wave that runs up the Rio Araguari a few degrees north of the equator in Brazils Amazon basin. The longest recorded single ride on the wave was 34 minutes and the goal is to challenge the record and bring home the boasting rights to the longest ridden wave.
The Build Up
Surfing’s search for new waves and frontiers continues to pioneer remote islands and frozen lands in the quest to tame giants or log the longest wave. This has mostly been reserved for salt water until tidal bore waves offered the promise of 30+ minute rides.
Brian Sobie of South Beach Productions came up with the concept for the documentary to air on Rush HD a satellite network. Collaborating with Aaron Jackson of Groundswell Productions they put together a team for the project. Raph Bruhwiler, one of 3 sponsored Canadian pro surfers, from Tofino, BC, Canada, Peter Mel, famed big wave surfer from Santa Cruz, California and Alexandere “Picuruta” Salazar, Brazils surfing legend from Santos Brazil were brought on to surf the wave. Garry Linden, of Carlsbad California, a seasoned vet and pioneer who has been surfing and shaping on and off in Brazil since the 70’s, came on to organize the trip. Gary was the only organizer in the crew with working knowledge of the wave as he had scouted, organized and surfed the wave with the Red Bull team in 2003, (filmed by Bill Heath) this would be his 4th trip to the wave.
In November of 2003 the project traveled to Nootka Island, 3 hours north of Tofino on Vancouver Islands pristine west coast (Canada) to meet up with Tatchu Adventures and film Raph towing into some burly outer reef cold-water waves. In March of 2004 they headed to Santa Cruz and met up with Peter Mel to surf and shoot a few favorite spots before heading out to Brazil to meet up with Picuruta in Santos.
Entering into Brazil we were greeted with a 4-hour line up at customs. Customs was on strike, this was ominous of related events to come but hey, we were in Brazil, it was all good. Brazil reacted to the US policy of photographing and fingerprinting visa carrying foreigners by extending the same courtesy to US citizens visiting their country. After about two and a half hours all non-US citizens were put into a different line that moved about 4 times as fast, I’m Canadian - it didn’t mater we still had to wait on the other side for everyone and our next flight wasn’t for another 7 hours anyway. The production team came from Maui, California, Vancouver and Toronto. Everyone rendezvoused in Macapá on the north bank of the Amazon delta. Macapá is the capital city of Amapá, Brazil’s N.E. state bordering French Guiana. On average it took 35 hours in travel time to get to Macapá from our origins. At that point introductions were brief as bed was a very welcome site.
Macapá - Celebrity Status
The original plan was to spend 3-4 days acclimatizing in Macapá before setting out on the Rio Araguari for the final leg of our mission to the wave. Macapá is a port town isolated from the south by the Amazon River and isn’t well traveled by tourists so our project attracted a lot of local attention. A cultural attaché from the tourism board greeted us and set up a 2-day itinerary to guide us through the cultural highlights of the area. Most places we went a local news crew showed up to film us filming them. We made front-page news in the paper, were stood up by the governor himself and given curious looks everywhere we went. There were plenty of diversions to pass the time; Macapá is one of 5 metropolises in the world located on the equator and at 12 noon we stood at 0.00 latitude without a shadow as it was directly below us. Toilets were flushed on both sides to see if the Coriolis force worked in such close proximity, we were disappointed. We went to a flour factory in a Quilombo that was a colony formed by run away slaves before slavery was abolished in 1888. Not much had changed in the process as it was still a family working in an open-air hut hand making farinha (flour) from the mandioca root. A stop at a roadside swimming hole was basically drinking bars on stilts in the flooded mangrove and kids in their underwear jumping off of anything possible into the water. In the distance men herded water buffalo with long poles and flat canoes through the swamp. In another Quilombo dancers performed traditional dances with drumming and introduced us to local food and firewater.
The 30?C+ heat and thick humidity was compounding everyone’s restlessness and by the 3rd day we had soaked up enough culture to earn a boozy night on the town. We had been held up waiting for our 2 inflatable boats to be released from customs and make it to Macapá from Sao Paulo. Once again the customs strike was doing us no favors and forced 2 extra days in Macapá in hopes that our boats would arrive. The time was well spent getting to know cachaça, Brazils sugar cane liquor that canes you, the riverfront bars and the nightly carnival. With our surfing days numbered we cut our losses and organized new boats. The next morning we woke up at 2am, packed up a bus and headed north four and a half hours down a bumpy mud road to Cutias, our point of departure on the Rio Araguari.
The first glimpse of the Amazon is a humbling experience to see first hand how immense and lush it is. The Amazon forest is said to be the lungs of the world and the rivers the arteries. It's profound how true this is once you are actually there and feel life everywhere. The Pororoca on the Rio Araguari is accepted as the most feared tidal bore wave in the Amazon. The river starts in the Tumucumaque Mountain range over 350 km’s into the Amazon and winds its way through the basin opening into the Atlantic Ocean. The river is the primary source of food, water, transportation and even sports and entertainment for all its residents.
It was 8:30am when we left Cutias on the “Com Victor” a 50 ft flat-bottomed wooden riverboat that cruised down river at a balmy 4-6 knots. The boat is used primarily to transport water buffalo and supplies up and down the waterways but feels like its only missing a paddled wheel to make it a turn of the century parlor boat. It was initially to be an 8-hour ride to the camp but by this point we were all well aware of the relaxed perception of time in Brazil. With an elusive itinerary cocktail hour can strike at any moment and on this day it was about 5 minutes after leaving port. The wizened travelers hung their hammocks before they drank too much and those who didn’t got drunk and passed out in the hammocks of those who did. As the boat labored down the river Picuruta and Gary told stories about their previous trips to surf the wave. “You never know what you are going to get until you are there” Gary began, “Some sections I’ve seen barreling and perfect and other days mushy and blown out.” Picuruta talked about surfing the wave the year before with Carlos Burle and Ross Clarke Jones on the Red Bull trip and how every wave is different and has its own personality. Botos, river dolphin, showed up to christen the expedition and loan an auspicious tone to our start.
Before leaving Macapá the team doctor lectured us on the perils of the jungle and the river. After listing off river pirates, yellow fever, malaria, bacteria, parasites, anacondas, poisonous snakes, piranhas, flat fish, spiders, scorpions, insects and other potentially fatal inhabitants of the area the one animal that commanded the most attention was the “Candiru” a small needle fish that swims up the urine stream into the urethra while peeing in the water. The fish has barb like scales that make it impossible to pull out and reports of amputation sends a cringe through the audience. Strained faces relayed the mental images of the surfers in the situation as they asked questions about their new phobia. The Amazon is perhaps one of the few places that it is copasetic to wear spandex or a speedo and still maintain your dignity.
The boat ride was spent going from hammock, to cooler, to roof and repeating in no specific order. As dementia from the heat mixed with the beer and cachaça and the drone of the open engine molested the serenity of the river you couldn’t help but stand on the roof and feel Apocalypse Now mission-esque. This was a jungle where you could lose your senses and revert to feral living on what ever you could kill or coerce into your hut. Exploring the fantasy you realize how fine, and easily blurred, the line is between civility and barbarism. You could almost hear the loud speakers drowning out the arriving forces before the “That’s Charlie’s point sarge” conversation starts; that’s when its about time to get out of the sun, get another beer and lay in the hammock for awhile.
The boats crew was led by Chico, “el rei machismo” who drank more than anyone giving him clear title as “el chefe”. The captain and crew were from the area and local river villages. At the front of the boat a navigator constantly plunged a weight tied to a string in the water to judge depth. We would find out just how shallow the river was in due time. We anchored at about 8 pm and waited for the arrival of the Pororoca to signal high tide before navigating our way up the tributary to camp. With no engine running and a nearly full moon it is eerie the amount of nocturnal jungle noise that surrounded us. Following a 1-2 foot surge of water up the tributary we managed to bottom the boat out about 3 times before arriving at camp just before midnight, almost 14 hours after departing port.
Brazil - Surfing the Pororoca Part 1 ♠ Part 2