Futaleufú XL: Interview with Chilean pro kayaker Marcos Gallegos

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On Monday, more than 30 kayaks were on the Espolón River - kids, teenagers, and novice kayakers  - participating in preliminary events part of the first-ever Futaleufú XL and Festival del Río.  Taking place from February 22 to 27, the event is both a Whitewater Grand Prix Qualifier competition with kayakers coming from all over the globe and a festival with cultural activities featuring Patagonian music, gastronomy, and dance.
Patagon Journal, an official media partner of Futaleufú XL, interviewed Marcos Gallegos, one of Chile’s top professional kayakers and a lead organizer of the event.  Originally from Chaitén, which is just 156 kilometers (97 miles) from Futaleufú, Marcos has been kayaking since he was 17-years-old going pro some three years later. He talked with us about his successful career competing in kayak events worldwide as well as the broader purpose of this week’s festivities.
Tell me about your journey as a kayaker—when did you start paddling and how did you learn?
I have been a kayaker for 10 years, six of those competing in professional competitions not only in Chile but other parts of the world such as Canada, United States, and Europe.  It’s what I’ve dedicated myself to, and through the Futaleufú XL I’ve wanted to bring some of this high-level competition to the people of Futaleufú and Chile’s Los Lagos Region.
Honestly, I started paddling in Chaitén, where I grew up, with really old kayaks in the ocean.  Later, a good friend, Aren Rain, invited me to learn how to whitewater kayak in a river in Futaleufú, and I just loved it.  I paddled for two days there and said to myself, “this is what I want to do.”  I continued kayaking, really motivated as all kids are, and kept learning and learning until I had my first competition in Canada.  Then I knew that competitive kayaking was what I most enjoyed… keeping myself in good shape and being able to compete in all disciplines was what I most liked.  Since then I’ve been training for and competing in all categories typically included in competitions, which are boater cross, downriver, slalom, and freestyle.
How do you think Festival del Rio and Futaleufú XL can contribute to protecting rivers in Patagonia?
It can contribute in many ways.  I’ve always thought that really no river race should take place if they don’t also have the purpose of helping preserve our rivers.  As I recently mentioned to Kayak Sessions, all kayakers, wherever they are around the world, they are ambassadors for the rivers, right?  That’s how I personally see it, and it’s clear that the best kayakers in the world can reach even more kayakers.  For instance, if you’re the best kayaker on the planet, or in your country, lots of kids are going to follow you and this can be used in a positive way to help protect rivers in your area, your town, your country.
And I think that is what a world-class competition like Futaleufú XL can offer, because a Whitewater Grand Prix classifying event such as this one is without doubt the biggest event in extreme kayaking, and there are many highly-qualified paddlers who are going to be coming to Futaleufú to compete this week.  It’s a great way to introduce kids, teenagers, people in general, to an event of this caliber that is also aimed at protecting our natural resources and heightening the level of adventure sports we have here in Futaleufú.
What are your dreams for the next five years?
I’m going to continue doing what I enjoy most, kayaking.  Obviously, I’m going to continue to compete. I have some personal projects as well. But as you can see there are many young kids who are paddling really well, who are really developing themselves into strong kayakers, so I have no doubt that we’re going to have a lot of new kayak stars in the next five years.  Along with all my friends in the kayak world, we’re going to continue growing the sport, whether it’s in lakes or rivers, and also continue adding people to the cause of protecting natural resources and elevating the level of kayaking in Chile and around the world.
Will Festival del Rio and Futaleufú XL happen again next year?
I’m always willing to continue working on this, whether it’s Futaleufu XL or some other similar event.  What we have discussed with local officials at the Municipality of Futaleufú, our partner in this project, is that this ought to be an annual Whitewater Grand Prix classifying event.  So, we will likely have it here again in 2017.  I hope the event does continue, it’s really great, there are a lot of people motivated, and we need to take advantage of all that and keep it going.



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