Rafa Ortiz Runs the Big Banana
“It automatically boofs you,” Rafa Ortiz says of the second highest waterfall ever run. “You have three seconds of freefall to get your bow down so you can walk again in your life.” The 23-year-old from Mexico City had been eyeing the 128.6-foot Big Banana (pictured) since 2006, when he took part in the first complete descent of Mexico’s Rio Alseseca, portaging the behemoth. In October, with an all-star crew of international boaters prowling the Sierra Madre, Ortiz decided it was time. “I told them I was feeling it, and we should go up there and just look at it.”
‘Just looking,’ entailed a 100-foot rappel to the fall’s lip. The next day, October 28, Ortiz lowered his kayak into the gorge and rappelled down after it. “The line is there, but it’s very dangerous. You can’t just let yourself go—you gotta act. You gotta get your bow down.”
Ortiz stomped it, losing his paddle on impact. “I tried a couple of hand rolls but got pushed up against the left wall,” he says. “Evan Garcia gave me a little Hand of God, and I came up all bloody. I hit my head on the cockpit rim.”
While photographer Lucas Gillman hiked 80 pounds of camera gear out, the rest of the crew paddled on, styling some of the best Class IV-V whitewater in Mexico. “We just bombed it,” Ortiz says. “We didn’t portage anything. The team was on fire.” — Jeff Moag
Rafa Ortiz and photographer Lucas Gilman went live on MSNBC this morning to relate the experience of Ortiz's 128-foot Big Banana descent detailed below, from the March 2011 Canoe & Kayak Gallery.