Breaking the Canoe Waterfall Record
Esprit founder Jim Coffey fires up a 60-foot waterfall
Last November Jim Coffey and his team from Esprit Rafting went to the Alseseca River in Mexico where he canoed the 60-foot La Cascada de Truchas. The successful descent broke the 20-year-old whitewater canoe waterfall record of 55 feet by Steve Frazier on Tennessee’s Elk River. This week Team Esprit released the video below of the first descent, prompting C&K to ask Coffey about what it took physically and mentally to get his 9’2″ (2.8 m) Esquif L’edge canoe to the lip of the falls. Here’s what he had to say.
CanoeKayak.com: How long had you been looking at this one?
Jim Coffey: I had been considering the possibility of running it about four years. It runs in the fall, when I’m usually heading to Costa Rica or Mexico so I never dedicated the time to run it. Mexico had very high water this year. It was as high in February as it normally would be in November. It worked out perfectly into my schedule.
With those two things in mind it just seemed like it was the perfect timing and I knew friends of mine had run it in kayaks just the week before so it was still in. I thought, ‘Okay this is the opportunity.’
What were the logistics like?
Logistics include: Drive to the trailhead, trek down to the edge of the canyon, rappel down next to a giant, blowy and powerful waterfall, lower around and trek around the next drop. Then ferry across and scout down to the Truchas drop. Meanwhile one of our teammates, Martin, pulled all the ropes up, drove around to the takeout, and got his boat to the bottom to set up safety. Our other teammate, Cheeks, hiked in at the bottom to take some photos and video, and cheer us on from the bottom.
Describe the moment you felt ready to run it.
I had thought a lot about the drop the night before. You run it in your head a million times. Most of them are successful and some of them aren’t. You think of the 90 percent that were good-to-go and the little percent that isn’t so sure. So you stay positive and think toward doing it. There was nothing to lose by rappelling into the canyon, and looking down at the lip and the maneuvers I would have to make to get to the lip. If I still got there and it didn’t look good, I could always throw and go and jump in or I could set up rope and portage the drop. Even going in, I knew there was an out if I didn’t like the approach.
Trickiest part was the entry and with somewhat precarious moments for my friend to hold the boat as I got in. There was hardly an eddy to start in; it was pretty much in the current. From there, it was turn into the current, ferry across, ride up on the marker bowl which guards the lip, and as soon as I was high up onto the boil I knew that I was going to go off in just the perfect spot. The problem with not being exact enough there is that if you go off too far left, the drop has a ledge when sends you into an autoboof—and boofing 60 feet (or 18 meters) is not what I wanted to have happen. I had heard about when the falls when the Elk was run that boat landed flat. Knowing that just three feet to the left would send me into that autoboof I was really focused to getting to the right spot on the lip. From there it’s all downhill.
The challenge of just getting to the lip really took my mind off the 18 meter freefall.
How do you think you did?
Often people think of this as being foolhardy but I believe that a healthy progression from running drops from the 20- to 30-foot range to the 30- to 40-foot range to the 40-50 foot range that this was a good progression; that this drop and knowing where to hit the line were calculated. So much so, that launching from the lip and being happy that you are in the right place and descending and slowly tucking forward that I really felt like nothing could have gone any better when I hit the bottom. It was just as I had imagined in those four years leading up to it.
What was your takeaway from nailing this first open-boat descent and record?
The other thing that I think makes this drop unique or stand out is I think this is just the beginning of many very high end and amazing accomplishments that are going to happen from people in the boating world. That comes with the advent of newer designs and equipment specifically made for pushing the whitewater limit and also a new group of very skilled charging open boaters who are currently doing and will be doing what we never thought were possible of open boats in the past.
I don’t think it’s going to be another 20 years to see other similar feats like drops or rapids that traditionally hadn’t been considered open-boat style runs. The boats and new young group of paddlers have become gamechangers. It’s fun to be part of that.