The Kids are Alright

This story featured in the March 2013 40th Anniversary issue.

Davey Hearn on the Pout on the Great Falls of the Potomac River. 1985. Photo: Don Watkins

By Wick Walker

When the current editor of Canoe & Kayak asked me to reflect on waterfall running today, nearly 34 years after my article “Waterfalls: Forbidden Fruit or Calculated Risk” introduced readers of Canoe magazine to the subject, these words leapt immediately to mind: irresponsible or reckless at worst. An extreme deviation from sound boating practices.

Those aren’t my words. They are part of the disclaimer that Canoe’s then-editor John Viehman appended to “Forbidden Fruit” when, after sitting on the story for more than a year, he finally published it in February 1979. The subject of waterfalls was then so sensitive that I never even mentioned to John that we had long since run Great Falls of the Potomac, the iconic drop that Davey Hearn descends with great style in the photograph above.

And could we even imagine back then the astounding feats that Evan Garcia, Rafa Ortiz, Tyler Bradt, and others are accomplishing today? Perhaps, in our fantasies. There was one other thing I did not mention to the staff at Canoe, or to anyone else to this day. In my wife Laura’s schematic illustration, published with the 1979 article, the rock formation symbols are those of Niagara Falls.

Veteran C&K contributor, 1972 Olympic paddler and Himalayan explorer Wick Walker is the author of Courting the Diamond Sow: A Whitewater Expedition on Tibet’s Forbidden River and Paddling the Frontier: Guide to Pakistan’s Whitewater. His latest book, Goat Game: Thirteen Tales from the Afghan Frontier, will be available this month.

Rafa Ortiz kayaking over Palouse Falls in Washington State. Highest Waterfall ever kayaked, 2nd Descent. Photo: Mike Leeds

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