I first met Brazil-native Marcelo during a whitewater-rafting trip through Piers Gorge with Northwood’s Adventures. He was helping them out as a guide while in the Upper Peninsula for a few weeks. Why had he ventured up here from Brazil, I asked? He said he came to kayak over the nearly fifty-foot high Tahquamenon Falls.
And a few weeks later, that’s exactly what he did.
Then he did it again. Just for fun.
Photo by Ben Blucher
When the photos of Marcelo kayaking over Tahquamenon Falls fifty-foot drop were posted online, it seemed to me like quite a few people thought he was a “normal” kayaker who decided to do something crazy. They might not have realized (like me, up until I met Marcelo) that there are a bunch of professional kayakers out there (Marcelo is sponsored by TAC Motors and Freeky) who have been training for years and do this sort of thing full time.
Photo by Ben Blucher
Like whitewater rafting, skiing or snowboarding, kayaking can be elevated to an “extreme sport.”
Interview with Marcelo: Kayaking Tahquamenon Falls
So, I emailed Marcelo a few questions to go “behind the scenes” with the guy that dropped the third biggest waterfall east of the Mississippi.
How long have you been kayaking?
I got my first contact with whitewater in 2008 while doing a wilderness first aid course. I met some rafting guides and they invited me to go down the river. I got addicted and have never stopped.
What inspired you to want to kayak over waterfalls?
I always loved extreme sports. While all my friends were skateboarding on ramps and streets; I was looking for steep hills to go down with my longboard. While my friends used to surf and do a lot of tricks and aerials, I always looked for the bigger waves. And when I first saw somebody going down small rapids on a kayak I start researching about that and realized that I could go over waterfalls. Since that, I have been training and pushing my limits.
Photo by Layne Thaler
Before Tahquamenon Falls I went down an 80-90 foot tall waterfall, but it was not a free fall, it was a slide. I guess I did a 30-35ft freefell waterfall but Tahquamenon Falls was the highest drop I have ever kayaked
What are some of the things you need to do to successfully drop such a high waterfall?
It takes a lot of preparation, I studied the falls for a while through videos and photos, then I went there to check with my own eyes if it was runnable.
After realizing it was possible, I had to wait a couple of months for the perfect water levels. I had all the safety gear like full face helmet and type five Personal Flotation Device, and a crew of raft guides and kayakers there for safety. They were waiting for me at the bottom to help me out in case anything happened.
A lot of people saw the photos and video of you going over the falls and commented something to the effect of “that guy is crazy!” without (I would guess) realizing anything about your previous experience. What would you say to those people?
Well, I would start saying that I’m aware that if somebody with no knowledge of the sport attempted to go over a big waterfall the chances of getting seriously hurt would be pretty high.
I have been studying, learning and training a lot for the last four years and know how to minimize the risks and where to land when staring at a big drop.
It takes lots of practice at smaller rapids before trying a big one like Tahquamenon falls. And besides that, it demands the right equipment and a good crew with First Aid, CPR and whitewater rescue certificates to make that happen.
What are you up to now?
I have been paddling around here (Brazil) and I’m planing my next project. I’m still not sure if will be coming back to the U.P. or another road trip throughout South America. Both will happen just not sure which one will happen first.