Everyone of us has said “no” at some point, has turned back before the summit or skied past a juicy but hanging little pocket of snow, but rarely do you hear about Red Bull-sponsored, legitimately extreme athletes abandoning their quest. It’s not that they don’t, it’s just that there’s no glory in prudence, nothing for the PR machine to promote. But that’s what kayaker Rafa Ortiz did this week when he looked over the rim of Niagra Falls — he stepped back and said, thanks but no thanks, and then he posted his decision on his Facebook page. The response, encouragingly, was overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve been dreaming about running Niagra Falls for the past three years of my life,” he wrote. “Every single day since I saw that line I’ve been haunted by it, it’s been both a dream and a nightmare.
“Every piece lined up and ready to launch, today I walked to the drop like I’ve done with many waterfalls in the past, looking for that last positive feeling. It was not there. The marginal landing zone that somehow has caught barrels and made survive a few suicide attempts, couldn’t give me confidence to sit in my boat and pull off the line.”
The sheer size of Niagra isn’t the devil’s cup of insanity it might seem — Ortiz has successfully paddled 189-foot Palouse Falls in Washington, 17 feet taller than Niagra, and the 128-foot Big Banana Falls in Mexico. But Niagra’s landing zone is a madhouse of broken boulders, as seen in this 1969 photo when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted its stream. Not much forgiveness there.
“Not often it hurts so much to walk away from a dream,” said Ortiz. But “some dreams are just meant to be dreams.”
In a media culture and environment where we praise people for being extreme and say I told you so if they die, it’s important, and refreshing, to see someone celebrated for making the right, if unsexy, decision.
Photo by Rafa Ortiz