When pro kayaker Rafa Ortiz decides to chase his dream to paddle over Niagara Falls, he can’t imagine the journey he’ll take to get there. As he and his friends prepare for their new adventure, they realize the path may have a mind of its own.
Fifteen people have attempted to go over Niagara Falls and just 10 have come out alive. Rafa Ortiz made it his quest to join that successful number.
Three years in the making, Chasing Niagara tells the story of the Mexican-born paddler’s bid to become the first kayaker in history to successfully tackle the falls.
Few places in the world can boast such a torrent of water, 100,000 cubit metres of water falling there every second so the risks of the challenge are for all to see. In addition, undertaking such a feat is illegal so evading the authorities was another issue to tackle.
Enlisting the help of some of the world’s best kayakers – Ortiz states “you’re only as good as the guys you paddle with” – the 24-year-old’s decision to run the falls dates back to three years previously.
Although in the film he admits to being hypnotised by the water at the location as early as 12 on a family trip, one of 22 million visitors a year to the falls.
But the film is not for the faint-hearted, Ortiz and his friends coming to the precipice of death in practising for the climactic stunt.
It opens in dramatic circumstances with Ortiz and his friends performing emergency CPR on Spanish paddler Gerd Serrasolses after one particular waterfall attempt goes horribly wrong.
With such a backdrop, it is unsurprising that Oritz says: “Most people thought I was crazy,” and subsequently labelled him “the man with the death wish”.
A self-taught kayaker, he was born in Mexico City but became enamoured with the outdoors and, in particular, water after his parents bought a small coffee bean plantation in order for their children to envelop themselves with nature.
While they back his dream and talk of how he reduces the risks as much as possible, the nerves of his life-threatening stunt are palpable both in their words and on their faces.
But Ortiz has perpetually been driven by the big drops for as long as he can remember.
Virtually hypnotised by it, he says: “Water is life… beautiful yet relentless…peaceful yet unstoppable. It has a mind of its own”.
For the “father” of the group – and their most experienced member – Rush Sturges, tackling Niagara is personally too big a risk but he believes as do the rest of the paddling throng that a line is possible to undertake for Ortiz successfully.
As Sturges says: “He’s willing to take it to the next level and I want to help him to get there.”
Cut with footage of past attempts in history – both successful and unsuccessful – the film is a captivating glance at both the beauty and beast like nature of the rapids from Ortiz’s native Mexico to Canada and beyond.
Even in preparation there are runs that afterwards, he admits, “that’s the first time I thought I might die – it nearly cost me my life”.
But what of the Niagara descent? Can he be the 11th person to safely ride the falls…and survive? Only time will tell…