Featured in C&K’s 2011 Whitewater issue, available on newsstands now.
By Kyle Dickman
The Demshitz crew, all but one of them in kayaking gear, was scouting a 40-foot waterfall they called the Dirty Toilet Bowl on the Rio Carhuello. The creek, a half-hour from the town of Pucon in southern Chile, was flooding. Wind whipped the trees and rain fell at an angle. Even the farmyard ducks by the put-in were huddled beneath the barn.
The team was debating whether it was better to punch the hole guarding the entrance on the left, or boof—”Mesa Falls-style”—onto the flake on the right that kicked water 30 feet out from the lip. Plug it or boof it. Satisfied with their choices, five of them hustled upstream with their boats. The sixth, Evan Garcia, was still in street clothes, using his jacket to shield his camera from the driving rain. Every few minutes he turned and dry heaved, attempting to purge the dozen or so pisco-colas he drank the night before.
Through sheets of heavy rain, Evan’s brother, Ian, appeared at the lip. He rolled into a left stroke, flattened his chest against his bow, and pulled his boat into a 45-degree angle. The line was just as he planned it: a boat’s width right of the hole, a boat’s width left of the flake. The line seemed to distract Evan from his hangover. “I don’t like the plug,” he said, though his brother’s line was clean. “The move is a left boof stroke, just where Ian ran it, but you lift your right hip and follow through with the paddle stroke,” he said, pantomiming the motion. Watching was too much for him. As the others began one by one to plug the drop, Evan trotted back to the cars to suit up.
When he returned, he scouted the drop once more, and slapped his forefinger against his thumb as if packing a can of chewing tobacco. Then, paddle forward and wrist cocked, he flicked a stroke, pulled up his right hip and sailed through the spray. His line was graceful in the same slowed-down style of a snowboarder twisting a 180 off a 90-foot gap: the appeal was in his control.
Scenes like this have made the Demshitz one of kayaking’s best-known posses. In the last few years, with Evan joining Pyranha pros Jared Seiler and Dave Fusilli as the group’s unofficial ringleaders, the Demshitz have been on a never-ending, increasingly high-profile tour of the steepest, biggest, most challenging whitewater on two continents. Though they dutifully host Paddle with the Pros events all summer, their notoriety has grown largely from the Internet. In four years, they’ve accumulated nearly a million hits on 128 videos posted online.
Seiler and Fusilli are now spearheading a plan to launch Demshitz TV, an online video series akin to Lunch Video Magazine, the quarterly whitewater DVD. The last LVM went to subscribers last year, via snail mail; Seiler and Fusilli will leverage the Internet’s global reach to fill the void. The formula is all-Demshitz, all the time, with sell-through links to T-shirts and DVDs. They plan to finance the venture by selling online ad space to outdoor industry companies. Fusilli estimates that a couple dozen committed boaters will keep the site stocked with fresh videos. “Everybody is a Demshitz so anybody can post to the site,” he said.
The one million hits on Demshitz videos dwarf the sales figures of the best-selling whitewater DVDs, none of which has ever sold more than 15,000 copies. If all goes to plan, Demshitz TV could revolutionize kayaking media. Seiler and Fusilli just hope it generates enough cash to keep them traveling and kayaking.
Being a professional kayaker is more of a hustle than a career. Even the most accomplished Demshitz support themselves with short bouts of non-paddling work and parental cash infusions. Fred Norquist, a film major at Western Washington University who gets gear from Immersion Research, sold a quiver of old kayaks to get to Chile. He bought gas and food with Christmas money.
Fewer than 50 kayakers worldwide are paid to paddle, and of those, perhaps five make a living wage. When whitewater’s economic bubble burst about seven years ago, companies began to pay sponsored boaters less and demand more.
“To get sponsored anymore, you have to be, or be able to become, a well-connected paddler who can reach thousands of people with a simple update,” said Eric Jackson, founder of Jackson Kayak. The bottom line is companies sponsor athletes to sell products, and online media has become increasingly important for marketing.
“Facebook and other grassroots, blog-y stuff is very important,” said Jim Hager, the director of Pyranha’s North America operation. “The athletes that recognize that get recognized.” NEXT PAGE >>
By Kyle Dickman
FRESH OFF THE 12-HOUR BUS TRIP from Santiago, I met a group of 10 Demshitz in Mamas and Tapas. It’s the only bar the Demshitz visit after bombing waterfalls on one of the dozen Class V rivers near Pucon: classics with names like Palguin, Puesco and Nevados. The town is surrounded by beech forests and sits on a lake beneath a conical volcano. Vendors sell locally grown cherries and empanadas beside shops with Patagonia puffs in display windows. That night it was raining, and six street dogs were curled up under the bar’s awning.
The Garcia brothers, Ian and Evan, were propped up against the bar talking to Anton Immler, a notoriously rowdy Swede whose Facebook profile picture is him naked in a field, chasing a giraffe. Fred Norquist, Erik Johnson, and Graham Seiler—Jared’s brother—were there. And L.J. was back. The part-time Pucon resident and NRS pro, L.J. Groth, had rolled into town that night, six months after he left for a job in the States. Celebration was in order. I sat at a corner table with Jared Seiler, Fusilli, and his girlfriend, Nicole Mansfield. They told me the story of the Demshitz.
It begins in 2006, when Pyranha’s Hager gave Fusilli and Seiler the keys to the company van, a nominal paycheck, and the loose direction to be seen kayaking. The list of classics they paddled would make any kayaker envious: the Little White, the Green, Upper Cherry, Yule Creek, the Moose. A boater named David George coined the term that summer in Montana. Sitting on a porch with Fusilli, watching the same guy drive back and forth in front of them, George said, “Demshitz loves us.” The crew was officially christened when Fusilli made a bumper sticker and slapped it on the back of Pyrhana’s van. That November, they flew to Austria to compete in the Sickline championships—cancelled due to high water—and in January, they made their first pilgrimage to South America.
Fusilli, tall and lean with a frock of curly hair, grew up digging graves for his father, who owns a cemetery in Clarion, Pennsylvania. At 29, he’s the oldest of the Demshitz and seems more serious about making a profession in the kayaking industry than the others. He and Mansfield, a Dartmouth graduate, paddled 26 out of the 30 days they were in Chile and would leave the next morning for Utah, where they spend their winters working at Alta Ski Area and planning Pyrhana’s summer kayaking tour, which starts in April.
Since the Demshitz arrived on the scene in 2006, Seiler and Fusilli have taken eight trips to South America, released Demshitz: The Movie, put 130,000 miles on Pyranha’s van, and were arrested in Salida, Colorado for being blackout drunk (Fusilli says he remembers the whole incident; Seiler makes no such claim). They also developed the Brown Claw, which is basically a gang sign that looks like a hand palming a baseball. The sign, along with the term, is co-opted from Sasha Baron Cohen’s character Borat, who uses it to signify a need to shit. The Demshitz throw it at all occasions deemed worthy of celebration: big rapids, booty beers, greetings. Their Brown Claw Facebook page has more than 1,000 friends.
“Skiers and snowboarders are throwing it now,” Seiler said, not a little proud. He has black hair and at 5-foot-4 and 150 pounds, is built like a can of tuna. Quiet and thoughtful when sober, in Pucon he’s known as Diablito—the little devil—after his fourth or fifth rum and coke.
Last year, Fusilli and Seiler produced and starred in Demshitz Made, a play on MTV’s Made. The Demshitz taught a new kayaker to paddle with the goal of getting him to surf British Columbia’s Skookumchuck, a 15-foot standing wave, in 20 days. In the opening sequence, a cool female voice—Mansfield—sets up the rookie’s chances of success. Then a shot of two seals having sex flashes, and she asks, “Or will he be buggered by a seal?” It’s the type of media they plan to use as the foundation for Demshitz TV: fun, irreverent toward all who take whitewater too seriously, and produced, seemingly, without ambitions outside of kayaking.
“Everybody on tour always says we’re having the most fun out there,” Fusilli said. “We want Demshitz TV to show the same thing.”
Demshitz TV may be Seiler’s last effort to live the kayak-bum lifestyle at its purest. He’s seriously considering moving back to Pennsylvania full-time, where he has a girlfriend and a job offer to install solar panels for good money. “Like $40,000 a year. And, I’ll have a bed to sleep on.” Fusilli is more inclined to stick it out. He does double duty at Pyranha as the team manager, and Mansfield is on the team. The key to getting Demshitz TV to work, they suppose, is enlisting some of their 1,500 Facebook friends to post their videos. Then again, the idea may amount to nothing.
“I mean, we’re dealing with kayakers here,” Fusilli said. NEXT PAGE >>
By Kyle Dickman
IT WAS 1 O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON when the crew, myself included, woke up. Our first stop was the American-style café, Latitude 39, where everyone ordered Stout Burgers—an off-menu Demshitz creation of fried egg, bacon, ham and cheese piled onto a beef burger—and told stories about the previous night. The Seilers had gotten into a fight, four cocktail glasses were smashed, Graham got pantsed, and Jared had been dropped on his head on the bar’s concrete floor. Somebody went home with a local girl and broke a sink in his hostel.
Though everyone seemed to have a MacBook open and Norquist was editing footage, no one posted video from the Dirty Toilet Bowl or the previous night’s festivities. The Demshitz blog rolls remained silent. But Immler, the giraffe-chasing Swede, posted a video called “Hungover as Fuck” to Facebook. It begins with some Demshitz in a car asking, “What the hell happened last night?,” and transitions to three kayakers blue-angeling a 60-foot slide on the nearby Nevados. The video was set to 3OH!3’s Colorado Sunrise and the chorus—”I am a train wreck”—played with irony. In addition to sophisticated graphics of Pyranha’s logo that took Immler eight hours to create, the video showed Seiler yanking a hair from Norquist’s taint—the space between the anus and the testicles—and three Demshitz swinging their arms around as if they were penises. Hanging out with these guys was like being in Lord of the Flies, but to their credit, they owned it. Everybody knew I was a reporter.
Many in the industry find this crassness off-putting. Derek Turno, the paddlesport buyer at Diamond Brands Outdoors in Arden, North Carolina, refused to sell the latest Demshitz film, Dashboard Empanada. “Showing footage of drunken encounters with 16-year-old girls in South America is not a message I feel comfortable putting our brand behind,” he said.
That most of the Demshitz’s media links the party lifestyle with the dream of traveling the world and kayaking raises questions about their effect on the sport.
“Fun is great, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to go to a foreign country and treat people like they don’t matter: get wasted, ignore local culture and custom, and not pay attention to anything but your own desires,” said Doug Ammons, who soloed the Stikine and self-published a book called Whitewater Philosophy. “Surely we can have fun without being obnoxious and self-centered?”
At the same time, Ammons believes that the Demshitz videos are rapidly advancing the sport’s upper echelon, just as his film from the Stikine in the early 1980s and videos like Dashboard Burrito did in the 1990s. The evolution is more rapid now because of the sheer volume of media that the Demshitz, Tribe Riders, and other young chargers are churning out.
“The best thing these guys are showing us is that many of our preconceptions about difficulty and danger were wrong,” Ammons said. “But the next generation will show us exactly the same thing. More power to them.” NEXT PAGE >>
By Kyle Dickman
THE DEMSHITZ ARRIVED AT THE RIO TURBIO in the Love Stain, the nickname for their 1990s Chevy pickup. Huge Experiences, the West Virginia-based kayak academy for high school kids, had come to paddle the Turbio’s standard Class IV/V section. Seeing their van at the put in, two Demshitz scratched crass slang and links to porn sites on the van’s dusty windows. Then they joined the others, carrying their boats a half-mile upstream through fields of scotch broom blooming in bright yellow.
They caught up to the Huge staff and kids at the put-in, which is just beneath the massive slide the Demshitz had come to run. The crew took some time with the kids, dishing beta and stoking them up for their run. It was a reunion of sorts; Fusilli and the Seilers had spent three weeks volunteering at Huge, teaching the kids to playboat on Canada’s Ottawa River and Colorado’s M Wave. Of the eight Demshitz at the Turbio that day, four attended World Class Kayak Academy, a similar traveling high school. Groth had been a teacher at World Class.
“Is there anybody in the world that doesn’t like Demshitz?” said Clay Whitaker, a senior at Huge. “If it wasn’t for them, I might not be paddling a Pyrhana boat.”
Over the next hour, six Demshitz rotated between shooting video and running the waterfall. The Huge kids snapped photos and lingered reverently a timid distance away. The drop was complicated. It dipped and rose over a bedrock slide before falling off a 30-foot waterfall into a shallow landing. From there, the paddlers skipped down an 80-foot slide, and boofed over a sticky hole with a walled-out eddy on the left. In total, it dropped roughly 150 feet. Jared and Evan ran it twice.
“The kids worship Evan and the Demshitz. It’s all they talk about,” Huge Experiences owner Dave Hughes said. “Yesterday, when they saw him at Latitude, I thought they were going to run up and kiss him.” Garcia’s blog has 60,000 hits since August, many of those, no doubt, repeat views from Huge students.
After the show, the Demshitz bombed downstream. The Huge kids caught up at a manky drop most paddlers portage because the pin potential is so high. Whitaker, the senior, asked me, “Did they run that gnar-gnar fuckin’ piece of shit on the right?” They did and they were fine. I asked Clay if he would run the drop, “The teachers won’t let us. It’s too dangerous,” he said. Nor, he said, would they allow the kids to run a clean-looking 10-footer farther downstream. “Ooooh, there’s a cave on the right,” Clay said, mockingly.
A half hour later the Demshitz were changing at the takeout when a Huge teacher and a student rushed up looking for a cell phone. Hughes had just regained consciousness upstream. He swam in the drop with the cave and had been held under in the backwash. Two students saved his life. Clay was one of them.
“It was probably two minutes before he started breathing and his eyes opened,” Clay, who administered CPR, told the Demshitz crew. “He was so blue. I thought for sure he was dead.” Clay seemed both stunned by what had just happened, and captivated by the Demshitz’s attention.
Two days later Huge student Erik Hill wrote on his blog, “The Rio Turbio … we all stood in awe as we watched the people [the Demshitz] we aspire to become fire up insane stuff and cheer us on as we got ready to do our run.” Beneath a picture of Evan Garcia running the multi-tiered 150-footer was the caption, “The Man, the myth, the legend.” There was no mention of the incident.
THE DEMSHITZ SPENT MOST OF THE NEXT day like they had spent much of the previous week: tethered to their computers at Latitude 39, and grumbling about headaches. Most were hard set on a day off from kayaking, so that their bodies, stiff from running waterfalls and toxic with alcohol, could recover. Then around four in the afternoon somebody conjured the motivation to kayak the Middle Palguin, of all things. It’s a quaint, 70-foot waterfall Ian Garcia first ran in 2006.
The Seiler brothers, Norquist, and Immler loaded into the Love Stain along with a new addition to the group, Eric Parker, an 18-year-old college student who had graduated from World Class the previous spring. Parker had been kayaking for three years and had never run a 70-foot waterfall, though he assured me, “I’ve seen probably 100 videos of people running the Middle Palguin.” The four Demshitz in the truck had run the drop a total of 21 times. Jared Seiler had added nine runs to the collective tally in the previous two weeks.
The Middle Palguin is two-tiered. The first drop is a 10-foot waterfall that lands in a violent hole, followed by a 25-foot pool that flows into the 70-footer. Most paddlers seal-launch into the pool between the drops and run the big one. It’s as clean as any 70-foot waterfall could be—though still plenty nerve-wracking.
“When I look at something that big I don’t know if I should shit, piss, or take a nap,” Seiler said, clipping his life jacket. “But once you get to the bottom, you just want to keep the feeling alive.”
For 45 minutes, Parker warmed up with pushups and jumping jacks. Two video cameras recorded each run: first the Seiler brothers, one after another. Norquist went next, followed by Immler, who two weeks later would paddle the Middle Palguin in an inflatable dinghy. Parker ran it last. After a final few push ups, he snapped the skirt over his boat, seal-launched in, and—oops—his hand slipped from his paddle and he flipped. He rolled up at the lip and corrected his angle just as he fell off the waterfall. A long moment after he vanished into the cauldron, he resurfaced upside down, missed his hand roll, and swam. “No!” he screamed between curses.
“It’s one of the softest hits I’ve ever had,” he said on shore, unhurt but upset about the missed line. “I can’t wait to run it again.” Three days later, Parker’s Facebook status read, “Currently experiencing the worst hangover of my life.” The Demshitz had their newest member.
|Want to paddle in Chile? Yes, you do. Book your flight through LAN Airlines (About $1,200 from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Santiago, lan.com) and bus it 12 hours south to Pucon ($76; Tur-Bus.cl). Once in the city, hook up with Rodrigo Tuschner at Kayak Pucon on the western edge of downtown. He’ll give you the beta to run any of the area’s dozen-plus creeks, and he can lead you down them ($450; three day “Run the Shit” tour; kayakpucon.net). The six waterfalls on the Class IV/V Upper Palguin are a must; so is the Nevados. December through February is the best season. Tuschner has most models of creekboat for rent but recommends you, “Bring your balls.”|