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Rafael Ortiz during expedition Red Bull Chasing Waterfalls Chiapas, Mexico, 18th January 2014, in Frontera Corozal Village and Usumacinta River. (Alfredo Martinez/Red Bull Content Pool)

Professional kayaker ‘Rafa’ Ortiz brings Niagara Falls to Fresno

Imagine you are standing over the edge and looking down at a drop that is more than 160 feet high. Depending on the time of the day, the mist hasn’t blocked the view of the rocks down below but you still think you can see a spot somewhere in between where there is pool big enough for a kayak with one man aboard can land safely.

The screening for the film “Chasing Niagara” made its way through Fresno on Tuesday night at the Tower Theatre. The movie gives an inside look on the three-year journey of professional kayaker Rafael ‘Rafa’ Ortiz and a group of friends as they attempt to defy all odds by successfully kayaking over the Niagara Falls. Ortiz was in attendance during the screening and was available for a Q&A session after the viewing.

Rafael Ortiz performing in Agua Azul river during expedition Red Bull Chasing Waterfalls Chiapas, Mexico, on 20th  January 2014 (Alfredo Martinez/Red Bull Content Pool)

Rafael Ortiz performing in Agua Azul river during expedition Red Bull Chasing Waterfalls Chiapas, Mexico, on 20th January 2014 (Alfredo Martinez/Red Bull Content Pool)


Armed with GoPros and with cameras set at all kinds of angles, it is almost as if you are there with the friends as they twist and turn in the different rivers, rapids and waterfalls in preparation to face the giant.

Besides the challenge of facing the massive waterfall, Ortiz said the biggest challenge was pulling the whole thing off without getting caught. One of the tests the group performed in order to gain more insight and research, was pushing empty kayaks over the Falls and seeing how they came out after the drop.

“After we threw the kayaks over the Falls that was kind of a game changer because then the police started looking for us,” Ortiz said. “Before that, it was all pretty chill. Everything kind of triggered all these events that made everything super challenging right at the end.”

For a part of the film, it feels like you’re watching the action sports version of “Ocean’s Eleven.” The group of friends must find ways to look like regular tourists while researching more about the falls, studying the habits and schedules of the police and also, most importantly, the legal ramifications that can result from going over the falls.

Ortiz said he learned a lot about himself after watching the film.

“It was an interesting process of maturing,” Ortiz said. “Going from that egocentric perspective to thinking a lot more about my surroundings. My loved ones. My family, my friends and everyone that surrounds me.”

Other than introducing kayaking to the world, Ortiz said he hopes the film can inspire young people to think outside the box.

“I was born and raised in Mexico City and for me, kayaking was the best way to escape a routine and escape what society says I have to do,” Ortiz said. “It doesn’t need to be going over 109 foot waterfalls, it can be whatever it is that takes you out of that routine and makes you excited. It makes you passionate about anything. It makes you live.”

Courtesy of Red Bull Media House

Courtesy of Red Bull Media House