For the last three years, waterfall huckster Rafa Ortiz has been sizing up the grand-daddy of them all, Niagara Falls.
Yesterday, with all the pieces in place for the historic first descent, he walked away from the 167-foot behemoth.
"I walked to the drop like I’ve done with many waterfalls in the past, looking for that last positive feeling," the Mexican phenom said in a Facebook post. "It was not there."
Ortiz, who ran 189-foot Palouse Falls last year, had identified what he called "a marginal line" at Niagara. The iconic waterfall has drawn generations of daredevils in barrels and other contraptions. In 1990, Jesse Sharp paddled over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls in a decked canoe and was never seen again. The falls has never been attempted in a kayak.
Niagara has been the scene of dozens of suicide attempts, a few of which have failed. That fact gave Ortiz confidence that a kayaker could successfully descend Niagara.
"Every single day since I saw that line I’ve been haunted by it, it’s been both a dream and a nightmare," Ortiz said.
Staring over the edge, Ortiz listened to his gut, and let go of the dream. "Not often it hurts so much to walk away from a dream," he said. "The marginal landing zone that somehow has caught barrels and made survive a few suicide attempts couldn’t give me confidence to sit in my boat and pull off the line.”
Other extreme kayakers praised his choice. "I am proud of Rafa’s decision, and I think it is a great testament of his character and courage," commented Rush Sturges, who is making a much-anticipated film about Ortiz's waterfall exploits. "The stars were aligning for this to work out, but sometimes you have to go with what your heart tells you."
Concluded Ortiz: "Some dreams are just meant to be dreams."
–Read more about Ortiz’s decision in our digital feature about Rush Sturges and his film-in-the-making, Chasing Niagara.