That was by far the most terrifying, adrenaline pumping, amazing thing i have done in a bloody long time!!
We left the surf camp in Rio behind us and headed north to the town of Macapá on the mouth of the Amazon River. Not what I expected, a clean safe town with a ratio of 10-15 girls for every man… All of them seem to be wearing massive heels. Total trip out!
So, we are getting organised, on Brazil time….. We were supposed to leave at 2pm with the tide - never going to happen! We didn´t even get picked up until 4pm…. No worries, we will leave at 2am on the next tide? No, the boat had a massive leak in the engine so they tried all night to fix it while we tried all night to get drunk. We succeeded… They did not.
So day two dawns as we are going to bed (massive night) and they decide to get us another boat. Good idea, this boat was much better and bigger with a bar up stairs….. Well, a fridge anyway. Off we go - a full 24hrs late, no worries this is Brazil time.
We drive through the night, I’m like a little kid at Christmas, because I know when we get there it´s straight into the boat to go surf this mystical wave… I wake up at one point in the middle of the night to see the boat in a paddock with water buffalo around us!!!!! Now this is a fairly big boat, 25-30 metres long with three decks, you know, not the kind of boat that will be easy to push off a sand bar.
Yeah, they got a little lost. In the day light, I could see why. We really were driving though paddocks!! Channels everywhere, it´s hard enough to navigate during the day never mind at night with no charts, GPS or radar!!!! At least he had a depth sounder. The captain showed all his experience, and we got out of that area without any problem.
5am, we arrive at the spot drop an anchor and prepare the boats. All the boys are putting fins in; waxing boards, nearly complete silence, none of the usual pre surf banter… The truth is we were all scared shitless! I mean we had no idea what to expect. We had heard rumours of this being the biggest Pororoca in ten years; big enough to get a channel 7 TV crew here all the way from Australia and Ross Clarke Jones, one of the legends, and total charger, of the sport.
All this is going through our minds, as well as the fact that if you fall off, what then? How long will I be in this water for? It´s full a stuff that wants to eat or bite me… What if they can´t see me and I go out to sea?? The river is about 5kms wide where we were going to surf… What if i hit a log?
So we head out, all the boys trembling but keeping the chins up, we go out to the waiting spot, beach the boats, meet Ross and the TV crew with their chopper and flash jet skis and all the kit, do a quick interview and then get ready. Yeah, we are going to be on TV!!
After the chopper left it was really quiet and still, then a faint rumble, like a train in the distance or a jet plane flying overhead… the Pororoca was coming!!!! Really shitting it now!
We get in the boats and head out to the middle of this massive river and you could see this little white water wall approaching… It was miles away and was by no means little! by the time it got to us it was actually a wall of white water 2.5 metres high and just churning up the river with an almighty roar tearing up the banks and snapping trees and sending water buffalo screaming, the heart is going flat out and the asshole is doing the 5cent 50 cent dance! What the fuck are we doing here!!!!!!
Then the wave hit some banks and transformed from this ugly wall of death to the most beautiful sight, for a surfer especially! Amazing rights and lefts just peeling literally for miles up the river! Even barrels that lasted for minutes! We were fizzing, just could not believe what our eyes were seeing, this amazing force of Mother Nature was unfolding before us. I’m getting sweaty palms just writing this!! So now it´s crunch time, I’m number two guy out of the boat, after our guide a local legend that goes by the name of Junior, he is out of the boat and up surfing! Sick, I’m out there!
I jump, heart in my mouth and paddle like crazy, the wave is coming up to me, i feel like I’m in the spot like a normal wave, but this is no normal wave… I missed it!! It passed underneath me, it was a horrible feeling that only lasted a second or two when the next wave picked me up and tossed me like a rag doll for a bit and then… I’m up!!!! Hands in the air and the biggest claim! It was such a rush, cruising along a head high wave with the Amazon under my feet and the jungle flashing past me all the while getting buzzed by the chopper and battling boat wakes and dodging logs and branches etc.
I rode that wave for 5 minutes! My legs hurt and my face hurt from laughing and smiling! Then the part i was on faded out… Shit no more waves… There is generally a set of 4-10 waves but no more here…... back to shitting it, I’m now floating up the river about a kilometre from the bank, trying not to think about crocs! Junior had fallen around the same time, it´s amazing how much better you feel when someone else is there with you. We were back in the boat before long and gunning it to catch up and get another wave….. in the end it took so long to collect everyone that it had petered by the time we got up front of it again. Day one was over and we were still alive, all very stoked to get it out of the way. Just that fear of the unknown, day two would be way better!!!
So day two started like any normal day on the river, meet up with the chopper and TV boys at the spot, headed out to go surf this thing again. I jumped out and managed this time to get the first wave….... I shared it with Ross for a good five minutes doing big cut backs around each other and having a chat.
A surreal experience, as if it was a normal wave, you would definitely not share, let alone be relaxed enough to have a chat. It was so bumpy this day and with all the boat wakes in the way it made for very difficult surfing, my legs hurt like hell, i eventually faded out.
I was the last to get picked up and our boat driver decided on a different line to get us back in front of the wave, instead of going round he thought, nah I’ll just go straight over the front. This is a manoeuvre I have done a few times before and surf life savers do it all the time when coming in and out of the surf. They do it in inflatable flexible 12 foot boats, not 18 foot tinnies, with six people in it!
The wave at this point was about a metre high. As we approach the back of it, all of us are hooting and laughing, `this is going to be sick!` BANG we hit the water in front of the wave and it grabs the boat and lurches it sideways, throwing Dirk and Mauro into the water and straight under the boat!!! The motor is still running, I was sitting at the back of the boat… I turn back fully expecting to see the water turn red as they get chewed by the propeller… I see 2 heads pop up a few metres away, MEN OVERBOARD!!!!!! Shit just got real.
Meanwhile we, Geoff, myself, and skipper flip-a-boat are trying our hardest to keep this thing afloat… no deal! We are now sitting in a sunken tinny rushing up the river… Lucky we have our boards and as the boat starts turning over we get out and start paddling, I hand the only life vest to skipper flip-a-boat, he looks at me thankfully, I think… I don´t speak Portuguese.
Lucky the other boat is just behind us and they manage to get a rope on and drag it to the bank… we can´t all fit in one boat so we just sit there floating back towards our big boat and after 45 minutes, 5kms further up stream, and a hell of a lot of laughs and high fives, we are all just happy to be alive, then our mates from channel 7 pluck us out of the water… Heavy day!
Day 3 was by far the best, all the media crew and other boats had gone and it was just us, this means smooth waves and no crowds… It was epic, all the boys had great waves and we didn´t sink any boats and we finally managed to get that second wave… A lot smaller but super fun!! One of the more memorable surf days I’ve ever had!!!
So now here we are back in Macapá and planning the next leg of our journey. Thanks to Ativa for an amazing, life changing trip. One that will be talked about for years to come!!!! Truly EPIC! Would do it again… In fact we are planning our next Pororoca!!! See you soon… only for the biggest one!!
The Pororoca can be very dangerous for anyone unprepared, and only experienced surfers should attempt to ride it. The isolation and power of the wave require special equipment and local knowledge. That’s why Ativa provides well-trained and experienced local guides, great instructor to surfer ratios, the highest standards of safety training and equipment, and a number of extra vessels designed to get you in and out of the water as fast as possible. As with any surfing there are risks, but our systems reduce those risks. You’re in safe hands with Ativa. www.ativaadventures.com.
Nat Young's winning submission for the ASP GoPro Challenge Tahiti