Hawaii is growing. Not because of a massive population influx but physically growing, adding surface area by the release of molten lava. While the flow of magma frequently fluctuates due to a variety of factors, a few lucky kayakers happened upon one of the most spectacular lava flows we've ever seen.
Rafa Ortiz, Dane Jackson and friends were on the Hawaiian islands scouting new waterfalls to run, and while waiting for rainfall to expand Hawaii's rivers and pools, their curiosity drew them to one of the most captivating natural wonders in the world. On the southern coast of the Big Island, where Volcanoes National Park meets the Pacific Ocean, magma spills forth into the cooling ocean waters with spectacular results. Watch the video below to see the incredible trip first hand.
Generally, the liquid rock seeps out slowly through cavernous crevices below the surface of the waves, but the kayakers were blown away when they arrived at a 21m (70 foot) waterfall of lava. The intense flow was the result of several acres of land collapsing and pressurising the outpouring to newfound heights.
Of course, Ortiz and Jackson had to get a closer look so they hopped in their kayaks and paddled towards the behemoth falls. But once smoking, newly formed lava rocks began floating past them, they knew they'd better observe from a safe distance.
We caught up with Jackson and Ortiz to learn more about their brush with the most dangerous waterfall on Earth.
What do you like about traveling with each other?
Rafa Ortiz: Dane's super motivated. He always wants to go paddle, even at 6am, even if we're hungover. He's six years younger than me so there's no way I can say no to him. We always come up with stupid ideas to do together. It's fun to have someone to work with that has a similar motivation level.
Dane Jackson: We have very similar mindsets when it comes to expeditions: Get the best rivers we can, paddle as much as possible, and make the stupidest videos together.
What was the purpose of this trip?
Jackson: Redemption. We went to Hawaii the year before to get amazing whitewater and waterfalls, but we never got a drop of rain so we didn't do very much kayaking. This year we wanted to be there when the rains hit, because when they do there's some of the best whitewater in the world there.
Ortiz: It's always a constant chase for rain. Anytime you have a small land area, the water doesn't concentrate as much and the rivers are small without high-flow consistency. Every day in Hawaii we'd anxiously look to see if it was going to rain and watch the levels of the rivers.
Talk about that particular drop into the small pool.
Ortiz: That drop is unique in the sense that it drops 6m into a pool that goes underground. It disappears and goes into another pool. It was kind of daunting, because to see water disappear is pretty dangerous. But the more we ran it, the more comfortable we were. When you land, you have to pop right. If you go left, there's a really powerful current that will press you up against the wall. We knew how to keep it safe, but it's a trip because it's only 6m high with a potential death consequence.
You went chasing waterfalls but found a lava waterfall emptying in the ocean. How'd that come about?
Jackson: A few years ago, we saw photos of a couple kayakers paddling by the lava as it trickled into the ocean and thought that looked super amazing to do. This year, we heard that the lava was flowing again and had to go. And really, kayakers getting to scout a lava waterfall is your childhood imagination coming to life.
Describe the experience of paddling up to that natural wonder.
Ortiz: It's hard to compare it to anything else. It's a unique natural phenomenon having molten rock at such a high temperature that anything around it is chaos. We took a 30 minute boat ride up to it, and even at 10 miles out we could see the fumes coming up. We were so eager that we jumped into our kayaks as soon as the boat stopped. We started paddling to it, but we were super cautious. It was such a different environment than we're used it, a completely different beast.
Every now and then it would explode into the sky in a million pieces. As we were paddling towards it, you'd feel the ocean water getting warmer and warmer. There were all these floating, steaming rocks nearby. It was trippy. If they touched you, they'd probably melt your kayak. It was a super hostile environment.
There are lava bombs flying everywhere, steam is flying high into the sky and I’m sitting in boiling waterDane Jackson
Jackson: I definitely didn't fully grasp what we were doing until I saw that beast spouting out into the ocean. Then as we got into the water and started paddling towards the chaos of lava, explosions and steam, I was in complete awe to such power.
At one point, I stuck my hand into the water to splash my GoPro and it was normal temperature, and then I stuck it in again right after and it was like sticking my hand into a pot of boiling water. There were lava bombs flying everywhere, steam was flying high into the sky and I was sitting in boiling water. It was such an epic experience.
How close did you get to the lava?
Jackson: Let's just say we got to see it in a way no one else could. We were close enough that an explosion of lava bombs would land a few feet in front of us and we'd immediately start back paddling. We had to make sure that the lava rocks floating in the water didn't touch our hands or boats, or else they would melt.
So did you mind-huck that lava fall?
Ortiz: [Laughs.] Not really. But it was actually a clean drop – a perfect spout.
Jackson: Oh, I mind-hucked the crap out of that drop! It was so clean. A little bit of a blind landing with all the steam, but it rolled so nicely at the top. You'd just have to avoid landing on any lava rocks at the bottom.