SAO DOMINGOS DO CAPIM, Brazil – Scores of surfers and thousands of tourists converge each year on Brazil’s Para state to enjoy the Pororoca phenomenon, the “magic” tidal bore that forms when the Amazon River’s sweet water meets the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1500, Spanish explorer Vicente Pinzon discovered the tidal phenomenon when his ships were rocked by the powerful waves created by the meeting of the different types of water.
Pinzon arrived in Brazil almost at the same time as Portugal’s Pedro Alvares Cabral, who got the credit for “discovering” what today is South America’s largest country.
The Portuguese explorer sailed around Brazil’s northeastern coast, while the Spaniard explored the north coast, where the Amazon River empties into the Atlantic.
The indigenous people who lived along the Amazonian coast in Marajo Bay called the tidal phenomenon “Poroc poroc,” which means “clamor” in the Guarani language.
The tidal bore occurs between September and April, but the wave action is strongest during the full Moon in late March.
Tidal bores are large waves that form when a flood tide is funneled as it enters a long, narrow, shallow inlet.
For about 20 years, the city of São Domingos do Capim, located about 136 kilometers (some 85 miles) from Belem, the capital of Para state, has hosted the a surfing event that focuses on riding the Pororoca.
“Surfing the Pororoca provides a great thrill, this wave in the river, in the Amazon, it’s a magic wave, a wave that’s completely different from the ones that form in the ocean,” Noelio Sobrinho, one of the moving forces behind the event and president of the Brazilian Pororoca Surfing Association (Abraspo), told EFE.
The veteran surfer said tidal bores also occurred in Indonesia, France, Portugal and Peru, “but when you encounter the Pororoca, the adrenaline flows differently, this wave is different, so you have to have different equipment.”
“I’ve been doing it for 22 years, I have the honor of being the first person to surf the Pororoca here in Brazil, in Sao Domingos do Capim in 1997, and we created a competition in 1999 and the government of the state of Para believed in it, and this project has been a success. This event has been going on for 20 years,” Sobrinho said.
The surfing competition and the Pororoca Festival, which was created a year later and spotlights music, art and food from the region, draw between 15,000 and 20,000 tourists from across Brazil and abroad annually, compensating for the damage done by the tidal effect.
The powerful waves cause damage along the Amazon’s banks, topple trees and affect the vessels operating in the area, especially fishing boats.
Tourists swarm the area and support vessels crowd out other boats during the surfing competition, while local artists perform on stages set up along the Amazon’s banks.
In 2011, the Para state government declared the Pororoca Surfing Tournament and the Pororoca Festival part of the State Natural Cultural Heritage program.
The 2019 tournament, which includes nighttime competitions, and the festival started on Friday and will end on Sunday.
Visitors spent the weekend enjoying musical performances, soccer and beach volleyball competitions, the Miss Pororoca pageant and other activities.
“This event has grown each year. Surfing in Pororoca, without a doubt, is a point of pride for the people of Para state since we have turned it into part of the cultural heritage of our state, we’re the most highly anticipated event in the region,” Sobrinho said.
The regional impact of the surfing competition and cultural festival extends to the neighboring states of Amapa and Maranhao, which promote tourist events and other Amazon-related activities during the Pororoca.