In Walking Away from Niagra Falls, Kayaker Makes News


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

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{ 11 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Kim Kircher

    Great piece of news. If Ortiz had decided to go for it, and didn’t make it, this would be a very sad story indeed. Instead this is a reminder that sound judgment should always sit shotgun.

  • Jim

    I grew up in Niagara Falls and cannot fathom anyone attempting going over the falls in a Kayak(and living). He definitely made the right decision! Just FYI the photos of the falls with no water are of the American Falls. The picture on this post is the Horseshoe Falls, which are the falls he would have attempted. I don’t think there is the same boulder field at the base of the Horseshoe Falls( flow over the Horseshoe Falls has never been stopped to my knowledge, although it did freeze about 100 yrs ago). Still the right , and smart decision on Ortiz’ s part!

  • Martyn

    The first picture is of the Horseshoe Falls which he planned to drop. The picture from 1969 is of the American Falls which is a lot rougher and shorter. Either way, good Idea to abandon attempt .

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