Ortiz, left, experienced Great Falls Park near McLean, Va., guided by longtime D.C. area whitewater fixtures Tom McEwan and Jason Beakes, at right. Photo: Greg Mionske / Red Bull Content Pool
Ortiz, left, experienced Great Falls Park near McLean, Va., guided by longtime D.C. area whitewater fixtures Tom McEwan and Jason Beakes, at right. Photo: Greg Mionske / Red Bull Content Pool

Paddle the National Parks: Great Falls Park

Rafa Ortiz and Red Bull profile the Washington, D.C. whitewater scene with local legends Tom McEwan and Jason Beakes

Great Falls on the Potomac River is special, not just because it is a spectacular Class V rapid in a beautiful National Park, but because of its easy access and close proximity to Washington, D.C. Recently, Rafa Ortiz and a crew from Red Bull had a chance to experience this extraordinary place first-hand with the help local legend Jason Beakes and whitewater pioneer Tom McEwan.

Jason Beakes drops The Spout rapid at Great Falls Park. Photo: Greg Mionske / Red Bull Content Pool

Growing up in Maryland, McEwan has been kayaking on the Potomac since the days when the river was so polluted that people were warned they could contract hepatitis if they came in contact with its waters. Throughout his youth, he would paddle his homemade fiberglass boat out to Great Falls and study its rapids, looking for the safest line. In 1975, McEwan went out and successfully paddled down the Virginia lines, completing the first descent of Great Falls. Today, McEwan is 70 years old and still paddling the lines he first pioneered. Check out his Unfiltered profile from the May 2010 issue of C&K and a short film exploring his contributions pioneering rivers south of the U.S. border as well.

The trio descends the rapids at Great Falls Park. (Greg Mionske – Red Bull Content Pool)

Beakes, another Maryland native, has been a fixture in the DMV (District, Maryland, and Virginia) paddling scene for over two decades. A former U.S. National Slalom Team member and multi-time winner of the Great Falls Race, having run Great Falls at flood levels of 162,000 cfs, Beakes began his paddling career as a student of McEwan's at the legendary Valley Mill Camp. Since then, Beakes has been a true steward of the Potomac River, working with the National Park Service to ensure continued access to Great Falls and promoting river safety.

Read Red Bull’s full story, and watch the video below:


— See the rest of C&K’s Paddle the Parks series, and read more on Washington, D.C. in our rundown of North America’s Best Paddling Towns.