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Past and Current Legends In The Whitewater Kayak Industry

They push the limits. They successfully drop into larger and larger waterfalls. They defeat all odds and run long stretches of river without support. These my friends, are the greatest legends in kayak history. The people us kayak lovers look up to, admire, and motivate us to try the things that once scared us. While this list is not exhaustive, we’re covering our picks in the whitewater space. Without further ado, let’s dig into a few of the top legends in whitewater kayak history.

Dane Jackson, American Freestyle Kayaker

One of the best all-around whitewater kayakers on the planet is Dane Jackson, an American that holds multiple freestyle and championship titles. Whitewater kayaking and his adventurous spirit practically runs through his veins. Jackson was born to world champion kayaker and Olympic paddler, Erik Jackson. He took his first river trip at the ripe age of two-years-old with his dad. A few years later, they lived the RV life, seeking the best river spots on the road. Constantly surrounded by water, whether swimming or paddling, it was a lifestyle he knew and loved so well.

Jackson has launched first descents of waterfalls across the world, all while racking up over 80 first place finishes in freestyle kayaking competitions. His career highlights from his perspective? That would be the big water in the Indus River in Pakistan, the Zambezi River in Zambia, and of course Chile, where big waterfalls are abundant. During his career he has won the IFC Freestyle World Championships, earned the title at the Whitewater Grand Prix three times, and conquered the second-highest descent on record at the time, the 134-foot Salto Del Maule waterfall in Chile. This extremely talented and versatile kayaker is already a living legend.

Nouria Newman, French Whitewater Kayaker

Nouria Newman, a French kayaker who is known for her expeditions and first descents of some of the world’s most challenging rivers, despite her roots in slalom, has kayaked in more than 20 countries and has won multiple championships across disciplines including freestyle and extreme kayaking. Newman has been featured in several kayaking films and documentaries, including the newly released Wild Waters, in which you witness her snagging the record for the highest waterfall descent by a female paddler. Newman has paved the way for female kayakers in an industry dominated by men; she isn’t “good for a girl”, she’s just good – period.

Tao Berman, Expeditions & Stunt Seeker

Known for his record-breaking kayaking expeditions and stunts, Tao Berman is a name well-known in the kayaking industry. Referred to as one of the world’s most innovative kayakers, Berman has pushed the sport to new limits on many occasions. He has set numerous world records, including the highest waterfall ever descended in a kayak — the 198-foot Palouse Falls in Washington. The since-retired world class kayaker opened everyone’s eyes to what’s possible in a kayak, cementing his status as one of the greatest kayakers of all time.

Scott Lindgren, Expedition Extraordinaire

World-class kayaker Scott Lindgren knows a thing or two about tough battles, both on and off the water. The River Runner, a documentary on Netflix, follows Lindgren on his journey as he sets out to become the first man to paddle all four great rivers that flow from Tibet’s sacred Mount Kailash. Lindgren redefined the limits on whitewater exploration, making more than 50 first descents in his native state of California and around the world, leading up to the world’s most forbidding canyon, Tibet’s Upper Tsangpo Gorge. Lindgren’s ability to be vulnerable amidst the messy parts of life is right up there with his incredible talent on the water.

Rafa Ortiz, Extreme Whitewater Kayaker

Renowned for his adventurous spirit and passion for exploring the world’s most challenging rivers, Mexican kayaker Rafa Ortiz has certainly made a name for himself in the kayaking scene. He has kayaked some of the most dangerous rapids in the world, including Palouse Falls in Washington, and the 128-foot Big Banana Falls in Mexico. Ortiz’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in kayaking has made him a legend in the sport – including his quest to run Niagara Falls, as documented in Chasing Niagara.

Kayaking legends have left a lasting mark on the sport, pushing the limits of what is possible and inspiring generations of kayakers to come. From Scott Lindgren’s unwavering spirit to Tao Berman’s record-breaking feats, these athletes have shown that anything is possible with dedication, hard work, and a whole lot of courage. Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner, let their tales serve as a reminder that the true joy of kayaking lies in pushing yourself to your limits and exploring the beauty of the world’s waterways. For more kayaking stories and inspiration, check out Aquaglide’s Common Waters blog.

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