Waterfall Huck in Red Bull Illume Finals

Lucas Gilman tells the story behind Rafa Ortiz's historic first descent of Big Banana

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume 2013 Category: Wings Athlete: Rafa Ortiz Photographer: Lucas Gilman // Red Bull Illume

Thursday, Nov. 14 kicked off the only American stop on the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour for 2013. The exhibit, which is up for the next 10 days at the Scottsdale Waterfront in Scottsdale, Ariz., showcases the top 50 photographs from the Red Bull Illume Contest in 7 foot by 7 foot light boxes that light up as the sun sets. Nabbing a spot on this exhibit is a pretty big deal to photographers, to say the least. 

“The Red Bull Illume contest has emerged as the premier world-wide photo contest for adventure sports photography,” says C&K photo editor Aaron Schmidt. “Winning images can be respected as being the best in their class; reflecting not only major athletic feats by the subjects, but also moving the art of photography to the highest levels.” 

Photographer Lucas Gilman’s shot of Rafa Ortiz’s first descent of 132.5-foot-tall Big Banana Falls in the State of Veracruz, Mexico landed him in the top 50 of the 28,257 photos submitted. Canoe & Kayak spoke to Ortiz after the historic drop in October 2010, which ranks as the second-highest waterfall ever run in a kayak. This week we asked Gilman how he got the shot that earned him a spot on the international exhibit circuit. Here’s what he had to say:

We found this waterfall during the first complete descent of the Rio Alseseca deep in the jungle of Veracruz, Mexico in 2006. That year  we rappelled around this beast of a waterfall named Big Banana Falls, and most in the crew thought it would never be run.

But Red Bull athlete Rafa Ortiz had a dream to run the monster. So for four years, we went back every year waiting for the conditions to be perfect.

On that day there was  a kind of electricity in the air. Rafa rappelled into the lip for a final look and gave us a thumbs up. I set up my cameras deep in the gorge more than 200 feet below the canyon rim below the waterfall and watched Rafa lower his boat into the slot canyon which was the entrance to the giant waterfall.

Next he rappelled down to his boat. Not only is Big Banana huge, but Rafa had to paddle into it blind with almost zero lead in.

The last thing I remember was hearing over the radio: “Rafa is dropping in 15 seconds.”

Suddenly he was on the lip of this massive waterfall for a split second. then he was gone—engulfed in the waterfall.

He popped up on the river left of the waterfall fists pumping. I could see the adrenaline and blood from a cut above his eye literally flowing off him as he got out of his boat.

I was stoked that everything worked out. My buddy was safe and I got the shots. We celebrated like kings with many rounds of tacos and tequila.

Red Bull Illume

Competitor Lucas Gilman of Wings Category poses for a portrait in front of his photo after the Red Bull Illume Award Ceremony at the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong.

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