My best day of Free fall. So far.
I arrived in Chile a week before my crew. Mostly because I had nothing better to do but also largely because I was so very desperate to finally get a few days warm up on a trip before I start flying off big waterfalls.
I spent a week training and cruising the classic rivers of Pucon and started dialling in my free fall technique on the perfect but small drops of the Palguin river. As enjoyable as this week was I have to admit that by day 4 I was starting to get a little bit pent up and was eager for the boys to arrive so that we could get down to business.
By Sunday, all of the boys had finally arrived. We wasted no time, immediately heading to the 50ft Tamatita falls and the following day to the 80ft tall Newen falls. This waterfall was only run for the first time last year and since then has seen only four descents.
We got there early in the day and spent most of the morning working to get our photographers, Kevin Kennedy and Melissa Hukson across the river. Once they were across, they were on their own and had a tough time. They had to haul camera gear through dense forest and try to find the faintest of trails that led to the waterfall.
Thankfully they are absolute beasts and made it to the waterfall in quick time. With our photographers in place, we where ready to go.
Our crew split up into teams of two, myself and Dane Jackson were the most eager to go first so we took the first spot, whilst Kalob Grady and Adrian Mattern signalled to the photographers that we where about to drop and filmed from the lip.
On most waterfalls we will set extensive safety but that was not really an option at Newen due to the turn around time to get to the base of the falls and back to the lip again, around 3 hours. Due to this we elected to use the good old “buddy system” and provide safety for ourselves. We would run the falls with only a minimal amount of time in-between each other, which meant that help would either be waiting at the bottom for you or falling out of the sky behind you and on the way…
Unless we both messed up, in which case we would…err, umm, Well to be honest with you, we never did get around to planning for that eventuality! Either way, if all went to plan, it meant that only the first person would be truly exposed and even then only for a few seconds.
The really cool thing about Newen is that it isn’t a park and huck. There are two must run gorges upstream and downstream that are chock full of great class 4 rapids. Myself and Dane rallied down these rapids as fast as we could, joking and laughing about not missing the last eddy, which forms on the corner of a blind bend just before the falls. We made it to the last eddy and took a moment to collect our thoughts.
We hadn’t until his point discussed who would go first, there was an abundance of “No, no, no… after you good sir’s” before we finally reached a verdict. Both of us really wanted to go first but where too polite to say it. Dane elected that I could have it as he had gone first off the previous days waterfall.
Going first is a sacred position to have when running waterfalls or rapids. It is your responsibility to make the line look as good as it possibly can and not affect anyones decision by crashing due to a last minute error of judgement or malfunction of skill. I knew because of our safety setup that Dane would run the drop regardless of whether I styled it or not.
Adrain is absolutely unflappable and would also 100% run it. Kalob however was stepping up his waterfall game by quite a lot that day, with his previous tallest waterfall being 60ft. I knew that he was 99.9% going to run it anyway but I still didn’t want to risk putting any negative thoughts into his head.
Me and Dane high fived, tried to say something cool for the Gopro cameras on our heads but instead managed only “see you soon” and then I was pealing out and staring down one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
I find my best lines off waterfalls are when I have only a loose plan and am not consciously thinking. Just sticking to my core rules and understandings of how to run waterfalls and reacting instinctively to everything that is happening. In the world of kayaking off waterfalls is one of the biggest debates is; whether to throw your paddle or not. Throwing your paddle means that you eliminate the shockingly common problem of hitting yourself really hard in the face, breaking your paddle or wrenching your shoulder out. It also means that you are much more vulnerable in the chaos below, risk losing your paddle and in my opinion it just doesn’t look as stylish. Holding your paddle however is what separates the men from the boys as you must have a good combination of technique and strength. Along with being okay with the distinct possibility of re arranging your face if you get it wrong, thankfully for me, I was never pretty to begin with.
I had my best line of a waterfall yet on Newen, Safely at the bottom with paddle and face intact. I stayed in my kayak to set safety for the others and watched as one after the other my friends laced perfect lines after perfect lines.
United again at the bottom there was numerous talks of “How freaking awesome was that?!?!?!)” and several schemes on how quickly we could do it again. We cruised the next gorge down to the take out in the evening sun, stoked, tired, and hungry for more free fall…
Thanks to Kevin Kennedy and Melissa Hukson for going to hell and back to photograph the day and to Ian Garcia for sharing his knowledge on this waterfall! And Pucon Kayak hostel for taking such good care of us!
See you on the water,
Casey Bryant Jones, Kevin Kennedy, Kalob Grady and Melissa Huckson