What did you appreciate most about experiencing this watershed so close to a major urban area?
Rafa Ortiz: I was raised in Mexico City, and kayaking was always about traveling long distances to be in the river. For me, the opportunity of being in the capital of the United States, and 20 minutes later be paddling some of the best whitewater on the nation was unbelievable.
What type of kayaker is best suited to these rapids? Could a beginner handle it?
Rafa Ortiz: There are some milder currents below the main falls. The lines down Great Falls are mostly Class V, which take the most out of out concentration and skills to make it down safely.
How did you find the whitewater community to be?
You have to understand that when you are on a dangerous river with another human, both of you are instantly bonded by the situation—his life is in your hands and vice versa. Its not surprising to find this rad circle of people that commonly paddle the falls. There is also a big slalom background in the area, which creates some of the best paddlers out there. It’s the perfect formula—no wonder a big portion of our sport was originated around Great Falls.
How do you pick what rivers you want to paddle these days? Is it all about waterfalls?
Rafa Ortiz: No, I just seek a challenge. I am looking for something that is hard enough to keep it interesting, but also not too dangerous that it’ll kill you. It’s a tricky balance, but there are a couple of amazing playground in the world that we end up choosing. Veracruz in Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, Chile, and Great Falls by D.C., for sure, to name a few.
How old were you when you started to kayak? How old were you when you went over your first waterfall?
Rafa Ortiz: I turned 14 when I got my first kayak as a birthday present from my parents. It was hard then because there were no other kayakers around us in Mexico. We had to improvise and try and try and try. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I tried my first waterfall. I had no idea what I was doing. I had seen it in videos, so I kinda knew what it should look like. But somehow, it worked out and here I am.
Are you done with Niagara Falls? Do you think another kayaker will try to go over it?
Rafa Ortiz: Yeah, that was a long journey, and I’m thankful for all I learned on the way. I do believe it’s a runnable waterfall in a kayak. I bet some kid is gonna get that fever one day again, and pursue it somehow differently and descend it successfully. It’ll make me super happy to see that happen.