Extreme kayakers make first Chilean descent of El Puma waterfall

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 David Toro at El Puma waterfall. Photo: Eli ToroDavid Toro at El Puma waterfall. Photo: Eli Toro 

 
By Paulo Urrutia
Translation by Patrick Nixon

Without a doubt white water kayaking is one of the most demanding outdoor sports, both physically and mentally. From the minute you embark on this adventurous pastime, you pit your skill, experience and mental strength against nature.

The new generation of Chilean kayakers know very well that they are pushing the limits of this sport to unprecedented levels. One of the highlights in the local kayaking scene in recent days is the first Chilean descent of the 35-meter El Puma waterfall on the Fuy River by Futaleufú native David Toro. Up until a few years ago, attempting such a feat was considered madness even by the most daring, world-class kayakers. However, the first descent was achieved in 2012  by Aniol Serrasolses (Spain). That was followed by Evan Garcia (US), Pirmin Dlugosh (Germany), Sven Lammler (Switzerland), Hayden Vorhees (US), Dane Jackson (US). However, on Thursday, January 21, and Friday, January 22, it was the turn of  a group of young Chileans: David Toro, Santiago Sandoval, Kilian Ivelic and Breiner Matis.
 
 
 David Toro at the Captrén River, in Chile's Araucanía region. David Toro at the Captrén River, in Chile's Araucanía region.  

 

David Toro at the Newen waterfall, in the Araucanía region. David Toro at the Newen waterfall, in the Araucanía region.

 

The waterfall, which is located in the Huilo Huilo park in the Los Ríos region, is intimidating not only due to its height, but also for the technical difficulty of its mouth and power of the leap. But 21-year-old Toro has become the first Chilean to successfully complete the descent. “It’s a very technical waterfall where you seek to ensure that every movement be slight, to feel the air, and visualize the fall and eventual landing. It’s a two -second freefall that is absolutely worth it,” Toro said. Rocío González, director of  Futaleufú Riverkeeper, said that this achievement by a local boy from Futaleufu demonstrates the new opportunities that are forming for young people from the town, which is world renowned for the mighty river of the same name that attracts white water lovers every year. The town's young people are getting increasingly involved in kayaking, something mostly unheard of just a few years ago. For that reason, Futaleufu Riverkeeper has also recently created programs such as Chicas al Agua, which not only seeks to train other future world-class kayakers from Futaleufú, but a new generation of environmental activists to help protect Patagonian rivers. 

Environmental commitment
Similar for those that are born in the city, going for a walk in the park is probably a normal part of daily life, for these young people, running incredible rapids or exploring impenetrable corners of Patagonia is almost like going out to buy bread, only just a little more challenging. It takes years of dedication and physical and mental preparation to hone the skills necessary to become successful kayakers.
 
 
Santiago Sandoval at El Puma. Photo: Manuel OrtizSantiago Sandoval at El Puma. Photo: Manuel Ortiz
  

Santiago Sandoval at Arroyo Zapata, Futaleufú. Photo: Sergio VidalSantiago Sandoval at Arroyo Zapata, Futaleufú. Photo: Sergio Vidal

 
For Santiago Sandoval who forms part of the Bestias del Sur Salvaje collective, kayaking offers the opportunity to connect with nature, in particular with rivers, the veins of the Earth. Exploration is what most draws Sandoval, where you are not out to prove anything. “The unknown is around every corner. Every bend in a river canyon presents a new piece of a puzzle that you have to complete. It’s all about the ability to adapt and stay positive when things are looking bleak. It’s about teamwork and individual skill. It’s the sense of feeling lost, alone, in an inaccessible stretch of the river, where no one has been before. It’s about managing your own ego, fears and insecurity,” Sandoval says.

Whitewater kayaking and all outdoor sports are in a state of constant evolution and transformation. The level of connection you feel with nature creates a bond that we as a species have been gradually losing due to the difficulty of accessing wild places. It is likely that this boom in new sportsmen and sportswomen will lead to a new generation of environmental activists that value the beauty of our rivers and the need to protect Chile’s unique landscape.