Pororoca: the endless Amazon tidal bore wave

September 2, 2022 | Surfing
Pororoca: one of the longest waves in the world can be ridden in Brazil's Amazon River | Photo: Red Bull

Welcome to Pororoca, one of the longest waves in the world. The tidal bore travels up to 500 miles (804 kilometers) upstream of the Amazon River in northern Brazil.

It's an impressive natural phenomenon that forever remains in the memory of those who see it and ride it.

The word Pororoca should come from the indigenous Tupi word "porórka," meaning "great roar," or from the aboriginal term to express the act of destroying everything.

Brazil is one of Nature's sanctuaries on Earth, home to rich fauna and flora and the epicenter of nearly all natural events.

French oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau was the first person to document Pororoca aboard his RV Calypso research vessel on March 28, 1982.

The film "Journey to a Thousand Rivers" was aired on Brazilian television.

At the time, the powerful wave created by extreme tidal events and powerful ocean groundswells was breaking nine miles (15 kilometers) out at sea outside the Araguari River mouth.

The crew followed the 10-foot (three meters) high chocolate-brown wave train traveling at 30 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour) for over 15 miles (25 kilometers) upstream.

Pororoca: a powerful tidal bore wave that destroys vegetation, large trees, and even houses on its way upstream of the Amazon River | Photo: Laus Archive

Piranhas, Alligators and Anacondas

As it runs up the Amazon River, the walls of water move at such speed and carry so much energy that they violently shape the river banks.

In narrower and broader parts of the river, the backwash effect generated on the river banks creates new and more brutal wave patterns.

The Pororoca destroys vegetation, large trees, and even houses on its way into the heart of Brazil's Amazon.

"Other dangers include uprooted trees swirling in the wave zone and wildlife that includes alligators, anacondas, piranhas, and the dreaded candiru, a tiny fish that can swim up the human penis and lodge its spiny fins so firmly in the walls of the urethra that removal usually requires amputation," recalls Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

Pororoca occurs with greater intensity between the full and new moons from January to May and September to December.

As fresh water is lighter, it initially extends far out to sea, delaying the tidal wave. Then, at a given moment, the sea breaks the balance and prevails.

It all starts with a bang that can the heard when tidal waters from the ocean reach the mouth of a river, creating the rise of water that transforms into big waves.

Finally, the oceanic tidal wave grows gigantic, fed by the winds, and advances through the river, whose current is reversed.

So, in a way, you could say that what happens in Pororoca is that the ocean returns the freshwater to its source.

Pororoca: a rare natural phenomenon that might only provide waves like this twice a year | Photo: Laus Archive

The Myth

Riverside populations created several legends and myths to explain the origin of the infamous Pororoca.

One of them is the legend of the three little black children.

The Amapá people believe that, many years ago, a mother put her three children in a canoe for them to go to school, not far from home.

On the way, a strong wave appeared, overturning the canoe and killing the three brothers: Lin, Nono, and Bita.

And according to the myth, that's how the Pororoca phenomenon began.

Today, it is believed that every time the wave arrives, the three black boys come on top of it, causing all the destruction.

Legend has it that you have to ask them for permission to enter the river on a Pororoca day. So, don't ask the natives about the wave if you go there, as they will only increase your fear.

Pororoca: a mighty tidal surge that was first documented by Jacques Costeau in 1982 | Photo: JMC Ocean Adventures

When to Ride the Amazon Tidal Bore

The ultimate dream of a surfer is to ride the endless wave, and that fantasy may become a reality if you're in Brazil in the right place at the right time.

Pororoca is considered one of the longest surfable waves in the world and might only be surfed twice a year at its finest, that is, 6-to-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters).

At its best and most potent level, Pororoca is a rare phenomenon that runs up various tributaries of the Amazon River.

The tidal bore arrives approximately every 12 hours and 50 minutes with a daily 40-minute shift.

However, rideable waves typically appear three days before and after the full and new moon, i.e., twice per month.

Pororoca is also special because, unlike other world tidal bores, it gets better during the wet season.

Dry weather will result in more mud and dissipated energy via exposed sandbanks in the estuary.

Let's not forget that the Amazon River's depth and river contours constantly change due to this natural event.

Also, despite the long wave trains, only two or three rollers are rideable.

The first roller is generally the best, even though sometimes the second wave is cleaner, breaks further away from the bank, and has more power.

Another characteristic of the Pororoca bore is that most waves break either left or right, with plenty of open faces for several surfers to ride at a time.

However, different Amazon regions experience different surfing conditions. The incoming tidal surge is rideable up to 120 miles (193 kilometers) from the ocean.

In Mearim, there can be five days of surfing in the morning between 5 am and 10 am.

Maranhão gets better during winter (December-April) due to NE groundswells, and Pará sees more waves in summer (July-November) thanks to the regular E-SE tradewinds.

Serginho Laus: the Brazilian surfers rides an alaia board at Pororoca, Brazil | Photo: Laus Archive

Surfing the Pororoca

The first surfers to ride the Pororoco were Eraldo Gueiros and Guga Arruda in the Araguari River and Noelio Sobrinho in Marajó Island in 1997.

Since then, surf explorers from all corners of the globe have followed the Brazilian pioneers and adventured themselves into the piranha-infested waters.

Locals organized surf contests in the mighty tidal bore; the foreigners shot movies and ran expeditions.

"Pororoca: Surfing the Amazon" is a 2003 surf documentary about the power of this impressive Brazilian tidal bore.

That same year, national surfing legend Picuruta Salazar set a new record after riding a single Pororoca wave for 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) and 37 minutes.

In 2009, Serginho Laus set a new Guinness World Record at the Amazon tidal bore wave with a ride of 7.3 miles (11.8 kilometers) that lasted 36 minutes.

The country's powerful and destructive tidal phenomena appear on several rivers, including the Pindaré/Mearim, Guamá-Capim, Marajó, Moju, Guajará, Macapá, Cassiporé, and the Araguari River.

In July 2015, it was officially declared that the Pororoca phenomenon no longer occurs in the Araguari River.

The irregular occupation of native areas for commercial buffalo breeding was one of the main factors that led to the destruction of this unique wave.

Araguari River featured Amazon's longest bore wave in Cutias, a remote village on the extreme east of the state of Amapá.

Pororoca: a dangerous river wave that should only be ridden with boat or jet ski support | Photo: Laus Archive

Play It Safe

If you're willing to give it a go, remember that Pororoca is a dangerous wave and only suitable for experienced surfers.

If you fail to take off on one of its gems, keep in mind that if you fall or wipe out, the wave is so fast you won't be able to catch it again.

You should only surf Pororoca with boat or jet ski support.

As soon as you're up and riding, the powerful brown water wave allows you to explore your favorite tricks and maneuvers.

For your safety and protection, the use of a wetsuit is compulsory.

It is possible to "hear" the Pororoca coming around 30 minutes before paddling for the most incredible surfing experience.

The Surfing Christmas Gift Guide for 2022 | Explore our Christmas gift ideas for surfers