Science, Tech & Environment

The wave that goes on for hundreds of miles

LAUS.jpg

Brazilian surfer Serginho Laus rides the thunderous pororoca tidal bore wave during the national pororoca circuit on the Mearim River, some 30 kilometers inland from the sea in the Amazon jungle in 2003.

Credit:

Sergio Moraes/Reuters

It’s a surfer’s paradise this time of year in an unlikely part of Brazil: the Amazon.

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Every year, around the spring equinox, a single huge wave surges from the Atlantic Ocean down the Amazon and its tributaries, running for hundreds of miles.  

“Surfing the river, it's special because normally in the ocean we can ride waves 20 seconds, 15 seconds,” said Brazilian professional surfer Serginho Laus. “In the Amazon, the wave never ends."

The nearly endless wave is called the pororoca in Brazil, and is an example of a tidal bore. Tidal bores happen around the world in places where high tides push sea water into narrow spaces like the mouths of rivers. The tide rushes in in a single, tumultuous wave.

The Amazon bore happens at particularly high tides throughout the year, but it's especially big around the spring equinox, which happens Sunday.

This is when Brazil's rainy season coincides with extra high tides, fueling a single crest that can reach 15 feet high and run for hundreds of miles.

Laus, who specializes in long-distance surfing, once held world records for surfing the Pororoca, and says he’s gone even farther in training.  

"My unofficial record is 23 kilometers, one hour and ten minutes riding without stop,” Laus said. “It's amazing."

But only, of course, if you really know what you're doing.

"It's a huge phenomenon, you need to have a lot of respect of the Mother Nature to ride this wave,” Laus said.

The wave itself breaks trees and churns up the muddy waters of the Amazon and its tributaries. And then there are the beasts of the jungle. 

"It's very scary because we have savage animals like jaguars, piranhas, snakes and the other animals in the jungle,” Laus said.

Some creatures lurk in the waters themselves, others are in the thick Amazon rainforest surfers must travel through to get to the river.  

Laus was one of the first to surf the Pororoca back in 2000, and now leads expeditions for other surfers. He'll be among the Brazilians heading to the Amazon region to surf the bore next week. Dozens of rivers in three northern Brazilian states all have Pororoca waves, according to Laus.  

The town of Sao Domingos do Capim in Para state hosts a Pororoca surf festival each March.

Since getting hooked on river surfing in the Amazon, Laus has hunted out and surfed tidal bores around the world, including last year on the Ganges River.