Dearest Friends of the Whitewater World,
Please allow me this opportunity to tell you all how much I love you. No, I am not drunk, nor have I been court-mandated to do so. Rather, in this shoulder season of reflection, amidst the ashen skies and stripped, sleeping trees of my native Vermont, I wonder about the different worlds that I inhabit, and what keeps me returning, and yearning, for more. The answer, of course, is love, in all of its varied and fabulous forms—love of nature and adventure, and the rhythms of life found therein, and love of those encouraging, welcoming, fun-loving individuals I have grown to know and to love along the way.
I fell into whitewater in Mendoza, Argentina, where I had already spent some time and was looking for a new job. When I got the call from Río Aventura, I was intrigued by the offer to work outside and learn new skills, including my land-based duties. Once the season arrived, and more guides, foreign and local, with it, I was enthralled—these guys (and a girl!) travelled around the world, riding rivers and sleeping under the stars, doing what they loved! I felt inextricably drawn to the outdoor lifestyle, the camaraderie, the endless drive to explore. Several of the guides had spoken of the magical, far-off land of Coloma, where there was work and play enough for river guides of all nationalities, and I was given some names to check out.
Flash-forward four years: I had the great fortune to join my family on a trip to New Zealand this December. I stayed on some extra weeks, and after a too-brief visit to the Rangitata and a warm reception in Mangaweka, I made my way to Okere Falls, home of the Kaituna River and Tutea, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Within my very first moments there, reunited with an old buddy at the Kaituna Cascades base, I was clipped into customer gear, handed a paddle and strap for my eyeglasses, and told, “Let’s go! We need another paddler.” We ran down to the put-in, and, with no time for introductions, jumped into the raft and set off at full speed down the river. I later learned that this was the Andy Duff Memorial Race, in remembrance of a deceased member of the community, and at the awards ceremony and party that followed I saw more friendly and familiar faces than I could have ever hoped to find in one location. This sense of irreverence and inclusivity permeated my time spent in the Falls, which, what with the glow worms, hot springs, and paddling a giant SUP out into the ocean surf with three other girls, made it all the more difficult to say goodbye.
Goodbye, and hello again—back to Colombia, and the people and places I had grown so enamored of the year before. Nestled within steep Andean slopes, bursting with waterfalls and brightly colored birds, the morning cloud that settles over the town before dispersing with the sun only enhances the dreamy essence of Cocorná. The people are generous, and proud to share their natural beauty with those from afar. One weekend we went to visit Joany, whose family finca (farm) was at the nearby Río Claro Nature Reserve. Upon parking the truck, we realized that “Thirty minutes from the reserva” meant “Thirty minutes’ walk uphill from the reserva parking lot,” and so we shouldered our packs and started off. We arrived in the twilight to a trout dinner, fresh from the family’s ponds, and in the morning Joany and his wife, Claudia, accompanied us back down the hill, and commandeered inflatables for us all to float down the river. Along the way we stopped at the Cueva de los Guarachos, pitch-black and buzzing with owls, and Claudia showed us how to grind rocks to make paint for our faces. Everything felt as it should on that delicious afternoon, adrift on the sublime simplicity of river life.
There’s another memory (out of so many) that stands out of my mind as emblematic of the accepting spirit I feel in the whitewater community. It was a friend’s birthday in Colombia, and he the proud parent of Freak’n Creek’n, so of course, we went down the river! There were eight of us, six kayaks and one raft, and the Río Calderas proved to be as stunning and exciting a run as one could hope for. As we dawdled by the river at the end, unwilling yet to leave, our celebrant noted that this was the first birthday paddle he had done with an equal ratio of girls and guys. It was a happy moment and I felt lucky to be there, amongst friends who make it possible to travel far and still feel at home.
I recently saw a note from that a friend had written to her partner, it read: “I love you like a circle.” That’s how I feel about you, my river family, that to be within your warm, wet embrace is to be a part of something greater than myself that flows without beginning or end. Without you, it wouldn’t be, at least not for me; it is because we are. Many thanks, beloved ones; you know by now that los quiero, y mucho.
Sarah "Sarita" Kay, has been a part of Cali Collective since its inception and has become an integral and vital part of our organization.
We love you too, Sarita!
All words and images copyright California Women's Watersport Collective 2018. All rights reserved.