Surfing Vancouver Island  

Words with Raph Bruhwiler on Vancouver Island tow in surfing  
and the Pororoca tidal bore on the Amazon  

a few Words with Raph Bruhwiler
Raph Bruhwiler as he takes off to surf the great boom, the Pororoca, the Amazon tidal bore.
on Vancouver Island tow in surfing and the Pororoca tidal bore on the Amazon

For as long as people have lived in the Amazon basin they have known there's something different about that river and its tributaries, something that sets it apart from other rivers. In the spring during the rainy season, around the full moon, the river sends out a "great boom" that reverberates through the low land jungles. The Tupi Indians called it Poroc-poroc and we now know it as Pororoca. The Amazon tidal bore.

When the river runs low, the big tides around the full and new moons, rush up the river and its tributaries in a muddy wave that has been recorded as far as 200 kilometers inland. The "great boom" that for so many thousands of years issued a warning of death and destruction now falls on new ears and lures them like a sirens call to the greatest river on the planet. Men and women gather from around the world to surf the longest surfable wave on earth.

This year Raph Bruhwiler, Peter Mel, and Brazilian surfing legend, Picuruta Salazar will join the pilgrimage with support from Gary Linden, and Clay Hunting to the Amazon's Pororoca tidal bore to shoot a documentary. The film is being directed by Vancouver filmmaker Aaron Jackson of Ground Swell Productions and is to air on a new High Definition American channel called "Rush HD". caught up with Raph Bruhwiler at his home in Tofino two days before his departure. Raph is in the process of moving, and took time out of his final days of packing chaos and travel planning to talk to us about tow in surfing, tidal bores and the repugnant habits of aquatic Amazonian critters.

CoastalBC: Raph, I heard you hurt your leg in Hawaii?

Raph: my knee. I got a big brace I've got to wear right now. I either tore or strained my MCL. I did a turn on a pretty big wave and my front foot slipped off going backside and I was kind of twisting and my back foot stayed on the board. I was in so much pain. I got to the beach and sat there for half an hour and I had to get help going up to the house. I was there for two weeks and I had another week left so I hung out there for another couple of days. I just didn't want to do it, didn't want to sit there and watch waves, good waves. I'd rather come home and take care of business, but it was good, Hawaii. I'm probably going to go again next year. You know it's a bit crowded and you got to fight for your waves but it's good.

I just started surfing again about two weeks ago, taking it easy, but I was out for probably about a month before that.

CoastalBC: how big are the waves in these Vancouver Island tow in photos?

Raph Bruhwiler towing in on Vancouver Island

Raph: They weren't huge but I dunno, that one shot that is kinda faraway, that was a pretty big wave, I'd say like 15 feet maybe at the biggest. Something like that. It was a reef that wasn't very far offshore but it was pretty big that day, I think they were calling it four meters. We checked a few other reefs that were further out and they were like twice that size, but it wasn't really rideable. Kinda like a big closeout. It would break nice, big and barrely and then it would just totally closeout, so take a drop and get hammered. Didn't feel like doing that. It's good to see the helicopter footage on that because I've never seen myself from the air, right, so it was pretty neat.

CoastalBC: when you tow in on a big wave it's just kind of a straight ahead run to keep from being eaten. Is it like that on a 15 foot tow in wave or can you fool around a bit?

Raph: yeah you can fool around, it depends how far ahead you are. The harder thing on tow in, like it's really easy to get into the wave because you don't have to paddle right? You get into them way out there but then you're out there and the waves not really that steep yet so sometimes you tend on fading way back and then you turn back towards where the wall is, and sometimes it's breaking in front of you cause you kinda faded too far back. Sometimes it's kinda hard to judge it but it's a lot easier because you're not paddling into them. So you can get caught behind the wave pretty easy. You know if you get a lot of speed, if you get ahead of it, you can kinda cut back or turn. The wave we were surfing was a pretty good wave, a lot of wall on it. It was a pretty fun wave.

Raph Bruhwiler towing in on Vancouver Island

CoastalBC: a lot of effort to do tow in surfing. Is it worth it on a wave that size?

Raph: It's totally worth it. It's fun. It's even worth it on a small day. We've done tow ins on three or four foot days and it is so fun, you just get so much speed. But the bigger waves, it's a lot more of the thrill, and it's actually quite easy. The thing about where we were towing in, none of us had really surfed it before so it was kind of new, so, kinda get whipped into a few waves and decide that it looks surfable so it's like "let's surf here". If you don't really know the wave it's kinda hard and the thing around here it's kind of a mission to get big waves because you've got to go way up the coast. It's just a mission right?

CoastalBC: Is it something you're going to do a lot more of?

Raph: I want to, yeah. I think we've got some big waves on this island, that compare to Mavericks and Waimea, even Cortez Bank. A lot of money and a lot of effort to find them though. Up there I know there's waves just by looking at the bottom on the charts. I know we've got waves like that. We have just got to put in a lot of time and effort finding them. This time we were pretty lucky. Spur of the moment we went up there, you know, flew up there, and we kinda got lucky because there was swell and it was pretty good. It wasn't clean but the good swell was a fluke. Most of the time you go up there, you don't really know. A lot of times you go up there and it's pure crap you know. It's just expensive and it's hard. I don't think it'll ever get very crowded with the tow in thing around here. Nothing like Jaws. Gets pretty crowded there now.

CoastalBC: You were working with Sam Ireland up there?

Raph: Yeah, he's a pro windsurfer and he's done quite a bit of tow ins at Jaws and stuff. He was driving the WaveRunner. He was really good, really experienced at it. He whipped me into some good waves. The drivers got to be good as well.

Raph Bruhwiler towing in on Vancouver Island

CoastalBC: Absolutely! I guess so.

Raph: If you haven't got a good driver you're not going to get into good waves. The drivers got to be cautious but he can't be scared either. The thing with those WaveRunner's is they outrun waves, right, like they can get right in the whitewater and they can still out run them. He was good. He was really good. And Clay from Tatchu Adventures was kind of the safety guy. He had his zodiac further out and then there was Aaron Jackson in a helicopter shooting all this on film.

CoastalBC: Sam is one of the best windsurfers in the country?

Raph: you know, I think he is one of the top windsurfers in the world. He lives in Whistler and then he goes to Maui a lot. I think he's got a place there and that's where he windsurfs quite a bit. I think he does the pro tour and he can surf. He's a good surfer as well. It all helps right. I'm a little disappointed he's not coming along, you know?

CoastalBC: Always nice to go with people you're familiar with and have worked with before.

Raph Bruhwiler towing in on Vancouver Island

Raph: Yeah. Clay's coming, and Peter Mel. I've towed with him tons. He's good you know and he's really experienced and I really feel pretty safe with him around and that's good. Gary Linden from Linden surfboards is going with us. He's been down there a bunch of times before and he'll be acting kind of as our guide.

CoastalBC: so you are headed to California next week.

Raph: on Friday, headed down there. We'll be staying with Peter Mel for a week and doing a lot of tow ins.

CoastalBC: That will be in Santa Cruz?

Raph: Yeah, Santa Cruz is where we're staying, so yeah, I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully we get some good swell and get ready for Brazil I guess. I don't really even know what to expect in Brazil. I've seen like documentaries and stuff and it looks doable but I don't know.

CoastalBC: Looks like the rivers can be a little muddy and murky and full of creepy crawlers.

Raph: Yeah it's definitely murky. It's freshwater so it won't be as buoyant as saltwater, so yeah, I dunno. I'm just going there and I'll see I guess. Definitely surf it.

CoastalBC: Got all of your shots?

Raph: Yeah all my shots, I just went and got malaria pills. It was like 150 bucks for malaria pills.

CoastalBC: Are there like vile and nasty microbes that you can pick up in that water?

Raph: Yeah I think there is all sorts of little bugs, right? You can't pee when you're in the water. You've got to make sure you don't pee. You have to wear these tight Speedo's, like polo shorts and then your board shorts on top of that. They get these little bugs that will, like go up any opening so you can't pee and you got to wear those Speedo's. No bleeding. If you're bleeding there's a risk from Piranas. As soon as they smell blood a bunch of them will come and.... and that's all I really know. I don't really want to know everything about it because then I might not end up surfing [laughs].

CoastalBC: I don't think it's all that ugly. I mean there's a lot of people that surf the Pororoca. They have a big annual surf competition this time of year.

Raph: Yeah, and from what I've heard and seen on documentaries, the surfers that surf it say it's the best wave on this planet, like the best wave they've ever surfed in their lives. I'm really looking forward to surfing that wave.

Raph Bruhwiler towing in on Vancouver Island

CoastalBC: Awful nice to get those looooong rides.

Raph: Well yeah, exactly.

CoastalBC: I guess the record ride on that wave is 18 minutes or something?

Raph: Yeah, something like that. The same guy that's got the record is coming with us as well. I forget his name. He's a Brazilian surfer. I thought it was like a half an hour ride.

CoastalBC: Here it is. In 2003 Picuruta Salazar rode the Pororoca for 35 minutes. Here's another article that says 37 minutes.

Raph: I think he's one of the guys that's coming with us. So you know what? Surfing down there, surfing that wave for like 10 minutes is like surfing up here for...

CoastalBC: Weeks!

Raph: Months! [laughs] Like one wave up here might last for 10 seconds so.... I'm going to be pretty sore. Doing a lot of biking, riding the bike, got that balance ball there, and doing a lot of weight training on my legs to get my legs nice and strong.

CoastalBC: So you will be right down near the mouth of the Amazon?

Raph: Yeah we'll be right down near the mouth and we will be staying on a boat for five days and it's one wave a day I guess. Supposedly you can hear it from miles away when it's coming. I heard that the first surfers that were going to surf it, the village people were just pleading with them, begging them not to go out there because they were sure the surfers were going to die.

CoastalBC: I guess for millennia it was a source of terror, destruction, and death....

Raph: and the best ride in the world for others and they just love it. It's not a place that I would've ever thought of going. Like I've always seen it and stuff, and whatever, it'd be neat to check out, but I never actually thought I would ever go there. That's like the only way you could really afford it, like if you're doing a documentary or something because even for guys in Brazil. From what I've heard it's a real treat to go up there. It's really expensive to get up there. Like us going up the coast searching for waves you know it's expensive and it takes perfect timing.

I'm really looking forward to it. It's right on the equator too so it's going to be smoking hot, but I heard it rains a lot, always raining. I haven't really done that much research on it. I just, um, whatever......

CoastalBC: I'm here, here's my surfboard....

Raph: ha ha yeah. Tow me into a couple of these and let me get the longest rides of my life.

CoastalBC: Have an awesome time Raph. It's a great adventure you're off on.

Raph: Yeah, I'm going to try to keep a journal and take a few photos. Maybe put it all on CoastalBC?

Raph Bruhwiler towing in on Vancouver Island

Photos: The tow-in team:
surfer: Raph Bruhwiler
ski driver: Sam Ireland
logistics: Tatchu Surf Adventures - Clay Hunting and Aaron Jackson
Additional support: VI Helicopters, Peter Nori, Ian Jackson, Sylvi Router, Atleo River Air (tofino)

» Bruhwiler Surf Camp
» Picuruta Salazar
» Sam Ireland -
» Peter Mel
» Linden Surfboards
» Tatchu Adventures
» Ground Swell Productions
» Vancouver Island Helicopters Ltd
» Atleo River Air

Bruhwiler Surf Camp, Tofino B.C.










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