Submerge Rafa Ortiz Chasing Niagara Photo by Marcos Ferro

With plenty of rivers around for Northern Californians to engage in whitewater rafting or kayaking, this feature film will fit right in when it is screened for only one night at one of Sacramento’s beloved local movie art houses. On this special occasion, kayak fans and extreme sports enthusiasts will get together to discuss kayaking tips, see some crazy action on film and, of course, partake in some free Red Bull (hint, hint).

This isn’t your normal happy-go-lucky film where everyone smiles and each and every character succeeds. However, the film carries with it the underlying message we can all succeed and conquer even our darkest fears if we set our minds and bodies to the task. It also serves as a harrowing tale of whitewater kayaking with some hard lessons learned along the way. Without giving too much away, we caught up with kayak legend, Rafa Ortiz, to get the lowdown.

The Submerge staff are afraid of heights (this writer included) and this movie, produced by Red Bull Media House, doesn’t help squash those fears.

Rafael Ortiz | Photo by Alfredo Martinez/Red Bull Content Pool

Photo by Alfredo Martinez/Red Bull Content Pool

Where do you find the inner strength to conquer such amazing feats?
I find my strength in a process of concentration. Every time I’m above a drop, fear comes, along with negative thoughts. So if I can find that original motivation that has me sitting in my kayak, if I can focus on the rational idea of completing a successful descent, then I will clear my mind. My goal then is to find a concentrated, relaxed state of mind, which is hard to achieve with all the adrenaline.

Are you married or have children? Surely a loved one must go through your mind when doing such stunts.
I just got engaged earlier this year. Fernanda is an amazing woman who has supported my paddling career through every stage. Indeed, as I grow older, the more I consider my close loved ones when doing something dangerous. It’s part of a maturity process. And I can’t even imagine yet what it will be like to have kids. But in the moment of concentration, right above a waterfall, it is crucial to clear your mind.

Why is death a recurring theme in the movie?
It wasn’t something planned. Death just happened to be a constant thing that kept appearing on every trip. Life versus death ended up being a theme throughout the whole movie. From the first line, “Water is life,” to the very final one, “What it means to truly be alive.”

Photo by Matt Baker

Photo by Matt Baker

Do you think of Jesse Sharpe [one of the first extreme kayakers who died in a waterfall accident] or do you erase your thoughts before taking on such a quest?
I don’t actually think about him too much. Twenty-six years ago, extreme kayaking was in a very different stage in regards to waterfall descent. Plus, he went for a line down the very middle of the falls, which I consider a total gamble.

Would you encourage others to try this sport?
To try the sport? Absolutely, yes. Kayaking has changed my life and given me a unique perspective on our environment. The experience of interacting with ever-changing water, making it down a river and through canyons that only a few have seen, along with a group of friends that you trust each other’s life to, makes kayaking the most special sport I’ve ever got into.

Photo by Marcos Ferro

Photo by Marcos Ferro

See Rafa Ortiz and a crew of the world’s best whitewater paddlers in Chasing Niagara. The film screens in Sacramento for one night only at Tower Theatre on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

    Eddie Jorgensen

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