Waterfall World Record: Pedro Comes Clean

Pedro Oliva talks about his 127-foot huck

Pedro checks his line.
Chris Korbulic

In March, 26-year-old Brazilian Pedro Oliva sent shockwaves through the whitewater world when he dropped a 127-foot waterfall on Brazil’s Rio Sacre. Since then, his run has been cheered and chastised on message boards everywhere. “He’s pushing the sport,” some said, “This drop makes kayakers look crazy,” pined others. To date, Tyler Bradt holds the freefall waterfall record at 107 feet off Canada’s Aldexandria Falls (Guinness just recently approved his line) while Sean Baker holds the waterfall world record in the freefall category for his 65-foot, 1996 Iceland plunge. Despite a number of successful–and higher– descents since, both of these names are still etched in the record book because, as Baker puts it, no other kayakers “have submitted to official witnessing and guidelines.” According to Ben Stookesberry, Oliva’s partner during the Brazil World Record Attempt Expedition, Oliva will submit his paperwork after the release of the new Hotel Charlie video. Regardless of where you stand, Pedro’s plop into history did one important thing: create excitement in a sport otherwise itching for it.
-Joe Carberry

What were you feeling that told you you could run this beast?

Most of my confidence came from Ben´s technique. He did all the calculations, had the precision with the measurements and he is also a very experienced canoista and he transmitted to me security. Beside this, the practice of this intense expedition of 25 days:  looking for different [world record-sized] falls, carrying the kayaks, exploring the rivers put me, Ben and Chris Korbulic in a perfect synchronicity. I had an impressive, good feeling when I saw Salto Belo. I had to do that. I also think that all the support that I had this time was essential too. A lot of important people for me, like my mom, some special friends were sending good vibrations, to me.

Had you been looking at the drop for a while?

When we stopped the car, I was the first to take the kayak off the rack. I had seen the waterfall a day before, by photo, and it was exactly what I imagined. I was so excited that I just wanted to do that! Then, I realized that I should be calm to have success. Ben began to measure the height of the waterfall and I helped him with that. When we figured out that it was bigger than the 2008 record, Ben started to prepare the cameras and I began the scout. It took me three hours. I walked to the top of Salto Belo, with water up to my waist, just to see all the lines of water, to know all possibilities that I had. I also just keep looking down. It was necessary to learn how to keep calm and concentrate from 40 meters above. I just looked down and thought: “It´s not so high. It´s ok for me”.

Before the falls, I also paddled trough the little rapids and stopped before the jump. I didn´t want to fail at the beginning. It was very important for the rest and I could repeat exactly the same movements that I did at the “training time.”

Style-wise, were you bummed you landed upside down?

No, I wasn’t. Ben, Chris and me were traveling for 25 days to rivers and waterfalls and we got some experience during this time with ourselves. We watched each other falling every time and then talked about the fall, discussed the position of the kayak entering the water and talked about other possibilities. Two days before Salto Belo, Ben falled exactly up side down, and we said that this was our perfect plan B, and that´s what happened. I think it’s possible to do the drop perfectly and I’m going to try and do it again in the next year. Now we know a kayaker can do a cascade of 39 meters. We have ended a myth.

So this is a pretty big deal for the sport and brought a lot of attention to whitewater kayaking? You and Ben even appeared on the Today Show. Do you think the way you dropped this waterfall will make people more or less inclined to try whitewater kayaking?

I think that those who are already in xtreme kayak/creeking might feel stimulated, especially if they want to beat this new record. I think that this mark also pushes the limits of the sport. People didn’t think that it was possible to fall down almost 3 seconds, for almost 40 meters . But it´s important to say that it´s a sport with much risks. I am a kayaker for 13 years. I did a lot of expeditions, and all the team (me, Ben and Chris) were experienced kayakers. Even then I had some security equipment like a special helmet, a life jacket [able to withstand a] car crash that probably protected my abdominal area. We are still adapting technology for safety. What I know is that the entire world is going to enjoy the photos and video of this incredible drop, and when somebody sees this it’s going to be with their heart beating like crazy. So I’m content with the thought that someone dropping a waterfall is doing more than kayaking. He’s sending a message to the world, and the message is, “you can do this too.” There are no limits in life. Many more people are going to start paddling in Brazil. After this many people here are looking to buy a kayak, not to drop giant waterfalls but to enjoy this incredible sport.

The huckster spotting his line through the lens.
Chris Korbulic

For more on the waterfall debate, check out the June issue of Canoe and Kayak magazine.

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