Veteran paddlers Pat Keller, Isaac Levinson and Chris Gragtmans finally came to the conclusion that the basin beneath the 90-foot Noccalula Falls in Gadsen, Alabama, was deep enough for their planned assault on the previously un-run Falls. Launching yourself over these Falls is strictly against Park regulations.
“If we catch anyone doing that we will call the police and have them arrested,” Parks and Recreation director Kerry Payne told Fox6. “They could have been killed, severely injured. They said they were professionals, but we still don’t allow professionals, amateurs or anyone and we discourage it.”
It was Keller who made the first descent. He chucked his paddle half way down the 9-story fall and emerged from the mists pumping his fists in jubilation. However, he admitted later that that the ledge was “one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen when it comes to waterfalls [because] it had a bump under the surface that changed the water’s trajectory, shooting you farther out than you wanted.”
Levinson went next and he too chucked his paddle. He was ripped from his kayak upon entry and had to swim to safety. Gragtmans was third and decided to hold onto his paddle during the vertical plunge. It snapped against his chest upon impact, and left him seriously winded, but not harmed.
You will be glad to know (or maybe you won’t) that officials arrived on the scene just in time to see the three kayakers get their boats out of the water. They were not charged.
Another veteran kayaker and the author of many successful first attempts himself, Steve Fisher, would have been incensed if they had beed. He had this to say to the authorities: “Hey police/ Parks and Recreation: Why don’t you go and arrest a skier the next time he goes backcountry skiing, due to the “risk of being killed or severely injured”. Actually no, don’t… Rather spend your time doing YOUR job and catching criminals while leaving professional sports athletes to do THEIR job, in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.
I too am a professional kayaker and just got done running the world’s biggest volume rapids in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, the police escort we had (to protect us from criminals, not ourselves) and high level government officials looked on with great pleasure as they watched us do something that they had no expertise in – quite a progressive attitude I thought! “
Point made… and maybe taken.
The following video is not Fisher on the Congo, but it is filmed by National Geographics and will give you some concept of the power of that mighty river: