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Surfing the Amazon - 2003-03-04

A new form of surfing is starting to gain worldwide attention. However, it’s different from the ocean style. It’s called river surfing and these Brazilians are surfing a tidal bore known as “pororoca.”

The pororoca of the Araguari River in Brazil's northern Amapa state is possibly the most feared of all the Amazonian tidal bores. Brian Purchia has more on this extreme sport.

Surfers make an adventurous trek by dirt roads and riverboats through the Amazon jungle to catch a "pororoca," which means "destroyer- great blast." For surfers it’s a thunderous wave, and a ride can last up to six minutes.

The phenomenon occurs throughout the world. It begins when the ocean tide reaches the shallow water flowing out of a river’s mouth. Depending on the time of year, waves of several meters can form, moving at speeds of 30 to 50 kilometers per hour.

The force is so great; it carries away trees, boats and anything in its path, it can even change the course of the river.

For five years Francisco "Chico" Pinheiro has been taking surfers out to catch the wave.

And he has become something of an expert. He says, at first the natives looked at river surfers as if they were crazy.

“They used to see us like people from another planet. We were in the place that for them was synonymous with death and destruction."

To ride the wave, surfers must jump out of a motorboat as the water barrels up the river. Since it only happens twice a day, there are not many chances. Snakes, pirhanas, alligators, and many other predators are known to swim in the river, adding to the surfer's challenge.

“I can't get it out of my head that if I fall in the river it's full of piranhas."

Francisco Pinheiro has become a pororoca surfer himself.

“Thanks to God, today was my first time. There's no way to describe the feeling; it's as if I won my first bicycle. I'll never feel this way again in my life, it's first time I stayed standing on the board."

Local people used to look at the pororoca in fear. But now they see the possibility of making the wave a tourist attraction for one of the poorest regions of Brazil.