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What it feels like to kayak down whitewater rapids

What it feels like to kayak down whitewater rapids

In Chile’s fjords Nouria Newman was a speck in the water, fighting to keep the rocks at bay – in the end, she just had to go for it

In Chile’s fjords Nouria Newman was a speck in the water, fighting to keep the rocks at bay – in the end, she just had to go for it

December/January 2020

There are two types of fear. There’s the healthy sort that keeps you on your toes, forces you to think straight and stops you from doing stupid things. Then there’s sheer terror, when you’re so petrified it paralyses you. Hurtling down the white rapids in Río Engaño, Chile, brought out both.

It was February 2018 and I was in the middle of a six-week kayaking trip in Patagonia. The year before I’d abandoned my career as a professional slalom-canoeist because I was tired of flying in and out of countries with time only for training, physio and racing. I no longer found joy in competing. But in the fjords of Chile I was happy and in my element, a speck in the water fighting to keep the rock faces at bay.

Engaño means deception in Spanish and the river lived up to its name. Every promising canyon worried us when we inspected it closely. When we finally reached the waterfall, heavy rainfall had caused the river to swell and there was no way I could jump the gushing water in my kayak. Returning a second time the water levels had come down but there was another problem. There’s a cave behind the waterfall and when the river hits it, it can come back on itself to create a whirlpool. I spent a lot of time working out how to travel safely down that river. In the end, I just had to go for it.

After going down the waterfall, all those fears fell away. The sun was behind me so I could see clearly. Despite being incredibly cold, I still felt great. It was the most rewarding waterfall I’ve ever run. Irrational fears will come and go, but it helps to be in the right headspace. By the time I was bouncing down those rocks, all those worries were behind me.

Nouria Newman was talking to Caroline Christie