Seven Days of Demshitz

Kayaking's hardest-playing posse is transforming media while keeping the party train on the tracks

By Kyle Dickman

Evan on Shahalie Falls, Oregon

THE DEMSHITZ ARRIVED AT THE RIO TURBIO in the Love Stain, the nickname for their 1990s Chevy pickup. Huge Experiences, the West Virginia-based kayak academy for high school kids, had come to paddle the Turbio’s standard Class IV/V section. Seeing their van at the put in, two Demshitz scratched crass slang and links to porn sites on the van’s dusty windows. Then they joined the others, carrying their boats a half-mile upstream through fields of scotch broom blooming in bright yellow.

They caught up to the Huge staff and kids at the put-in, which is just beneath the massive slide the Demshitz had come to run. The crew took some time with the kids, dishing beta and stoking them up for their run. It was a reunion of sorts; Fusilli and the Seilers had spent three weeks volunteering at Huge, teaching the kids to playboat on Canada’s Ottawa River and Colorado’s M Wave. Of the eight Demshitz at the Turbio that day, four attended World Class Kayak Academy, a similar traveling high school. Groth had been a teacher at World Class.

“Is there anybody in the world that doesn’t like Demshitz?” said Clay Whitaker, a senior at Huge. “If it wasn’t for them, I might not be paddling a Pyrhana boat.”

Over the next hour, six Demshitz rotated between shooting video and running the waterfall. The Huge kids snapped photos and lingered reverently a timid distance away. The drop was complicated. It dipped and rose over a bedrock slide before falling off a 30-foot waterfall into a shallow landing. From there, the paddlers skipped down an 80-foot slide, and boofed over a sticky hole with a walled-out eddy on the left. In total, it dropped roughly 150 feet. Jared and Evan ran it twice.

“The kids worship Evan and the Demshitz. It’s all they talk about,” Huge Experiences owner Dave Hughes said. “Yesterday, when they saw him at Latitude, I thought they were going to run up and kiss him.” Garcia’s blog has 60,000 hits since August, many of those, no doubt, repeat views from Huge students.

After the show, the Demshitz bombed downstream. The Huge kids caught up at a manky drop most paddlers portage because the pin potential is so high. Whitaker, the senior, asked me, “Did they run that gnar-gnar fuckin’ piece of shit on the right?” They did and they were fine. I asked Clay if he would run the drop, “The teachers won’t let us. It’s too dangerous,” he said. Nor, he said, would they allow the kids to run a clean-looking 10-footer farther downstream. “Ooooh, there’s a cave on the right,” Clay said, mockingly.

A half hour later the Demshitz were changing at the takeout when a Huge teacher and a student rushed up looking for a cell phone. Hughes had just regained consciousness upstream. He swam in the drop with the cave and had been held under in the backwash. Two students saved his life. Clay was one of them.

“It was probably two minutes before he started breathing and his eyes opened,” Clay, who administered CPR, told the Demshitz crew. “He was so blue. I thought for sure he was dead.” Clay seemed both stunned by what had just happened, and captivated by the Demshitz’s attention.

Two days later Huge student Erik Hill wrote on his blog, “The Rio Turbio … we all stood in awe as we watched the people [the Demshitz] we aspire to become fire up insane stuff and cheer us on as we got ready to do our run.” Beneath a picture of Evan Garcia running the multi-tiered 150-footer was the caption, “The Man, the myth, the legend.” There was no mention of the incident.

THE DEMSHITZ SPENT MOST OF THE NEXT day like they had spent much of the previous week: tethered to their computers at Latitude 39, and grumbling about headaches. Most were hard set on a day off from kayaking, so that their bodies, stiff from running waterfalls and toxic with alcohol, could recover. Then around four in the afternoon somebody conjured the motivation to kayak the Middle Palguin, of all things. It’s a quaint, 70-foot waterfall Ian Garcia first ran in 2006.

The Seiler brothers, Norquist, and Immler loaded into the Love Stain along with a new addition to the group, Eric Parker, an 18-year-old college student who had graduated from World Class the previous spring. Parker had been kayaking for three years and had never run a 70-foot waterfall, though he assured me, “I’ve seen probably 100 videos of people running the Middle Palguin.” The four Demshitz in the truck had run the drop a total of 21 times. Jared Seiler had added nine runs to the collective tally in the previous two weeks.

The Middle Palguin is two-tiered. The first drop is a 10-foot waterfall that lands in a violent hole, followed by a 25-foot pool that flows into the 70-footer. Most paddlers seal-launch into the pool between the drops and run the big one. It’s as clean as any 70-foot waterfall could be—though still plenty nerve-wracking.

“When I look at something that big I don’t know if I should shit, piss, or take a nap,” Seiler said, clipping his life jacket. “But once you get to the bottom, you just want to keep the feeling alive.”

For 45 minutes, Parker warmed up with pushups and jumping jacks. Two video cameras recorded each run: first the Seiler brothers, one after another. Norquist went next, followed by Immler, who two weeks later would paddle the Middle Palguin in an inflatable dinghy. Parker ran it last. After a final few push ups, he snapped the skirt over his boat, seal-launched in, and—oops—his hand slipped from his paddle and he flipped. He rolled up at the lip and corrected his angle just as he fell off the waterfall. A long moment after he vanished into the cauldron, he resurfaced upside down, missed his hand roll, and swam. “No!” he screamed between curses.

“It’s one of the softest hits I’ve ever had,” he said on shore, unhurt but upset about the missed line. “I can’t wait to run it again.” Three days later, Parker’s Facebook status read, “Currently experiencing the worst hangover of my life.” The Demshitz had their newest member.

Want to paddle in Chile? Yes, you do. Book your flight through LAN Airlines (About $1,200 from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Santiago, lan.com) and bus it 12 hours south to Pucon ($76; Tur-Bus.cl). Once in the city, hook up with Rodrigo Tuschner at Kayak Pucon on the western edge of downtown. He’ll give you the beta to run any of the area’s dozen-plus creeks, and he can lead you down them ($450; three day “Run the Shit” tour; kayakpucon.net). The six waterfalls on the Class IV/V Upper Palguin are a must; so is the Nevados. December through February is the best season. Tuschner has most models of creekboat for rent but recommends you, “Bring your balls.”

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