A last look at First Descent: Michoacán

To get the reward, you've got to take risks – and for these five kayakers, it was totally worth it.
By Peter Upton

They ate countless tacos, pushed broken vans off the road and risked their lives in territory controlled by Mexican drug cartels.

There was sleepless nights, stitches, and surely a few other mishaps along the way.

What does that mean? First Descent: Michoacán was an epic adventure. The crew of kayakers paddled through cities and backyards and hucked themselves over waterfalls that'd have never been run before. It's a long story, and you can see all the clips here, or check out some of the photos, but if you're just tuning in, the video above condenses all the awesomeness into one six-minute wrap-up.

 

Kayaker Juanito de Uguarte on a Michoacan Expedition in 2013
Juanito de Uguarte © John Rathwell/Red Bull Content Pool

“Mexico is one of the best places to go kayaking in the whole world,” says Joel Kowalski. “Kayakers everywhere know that. From satellite photos, Michoacán looks like a playground.”

But for years, political strife and a dangerous drug war kept paddlers out of the rivers of the state of Michoacán – until Mexican kayaker Rafa Ortiz, American Dane Jackson, Seth Ashworth, Ciarán Heurteau and Juanito de Uguarte and three friends decided the reward outweighed the risk.

“Every person we talked to said we shouldn't go,” says Ortiz, who lives in Mexico City. “They said Michoacán is death – don't go to Michoacán.”

Kayaker Rafa Ortiz on a Michoacan Expedition in 2013
Rafa pushes through calm water © John Rathwell/Red Bull Content Pool

They went anyways and couldn't be happier about what they found: friendly people and plenty of untouched whitewater. “The Rio Hoye del Aire is one of the best pieces of whitewater in all of Mexico,” says Ortiz. “One of the top five runs in the country – maybe in the top three!”

For three weeks, the boys ran new lines, passed on some others, and ate lots of tacos. If the video above is any indication of how much they enjoyed it, they'll definitely be back. “These rivers are turning out to be awesome,” says kayaking prodigy Dane Jackson. “It was a super cool feeling to know we've discovered a new jewel for whitewater kayaking – and we've barely scratched the surface of what's to be explored down there!”

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