Kayaker Steve Fisher's Legal Challenge

Red Bull kayaker Steve Fisher gets kicked out of one of North America's best whitewater spots.
Steve Fisher, on the river and on the set. © Greg von Doersten/Red Bull Content Pool
By Josh Sampiero

The Columbia River Gorge is a whitewater rider's heaven, with numerous rivers, creeks and waterfalls. For Red Bull kayaker Steve Fisher, 37, it was a regular stop as he made his way around the white-water world, putting together films like "CONGO" and "Frontier". But stemming from an incident at Eagle Creek's Metlako falls, Fisher is in receipt of a lifetime ban from the Gorge.

Interestingly, the ban isn't due to the actual running of Metlako Falls, a 30m drop he took in a tandem boat with skater and reality television star Bam Margera over two years ago. It's due to the fact that they shared video of the run on YouTube.

In the mind of the park ranger who pushed for prosecution, this constituted a breach of law – commercial filming in Federal Forest Land requires a special use authorization permit. Fisher and crew had applied for such – they were promptly denied.

Steve Fisher (right) at a CONGO premiere © Steven Stone/Red Bull Content Pool

They were, however, assured that simply running the falls and filming it for personal use – such as an every-day kayaker or skier, mounting a camera on their helmet – was totally within their rights. They did so, and much like any other skier, surfer, or kayaker, posted it to YouTube. (They did not put the clip in a DVD or other traditional "commercially available" product.)

But authorities pounced, claiming Fisher and his team violated the law requiring a special use permit. Fisher fought back – but with his ability to stay legally in the country on the line (Fisher is a native South African, married to an American), he could only fight so hard.

"It turns out that once in a court room, this is quite a serious charge that could have affected my immigration status and ability to travel in the future," says Fisher. "The NFS [National Forest Service] made no secret of the fact that they were out to make an example of me. Fair enough, I’m flattered!"

In Fisher's opinion, last month's courtroom proceedings made it clear that the prosecution wasn't without a personal agenda. But ultimately, the solution was simple, if unfortunate. He made a deal that avoided any prosecution or sentencing, but gave up his rights to enter the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area.

Lucky for him, he's leaving anyways, headed towards the famed whitewater rivers of the eastern mountain states. Says Fisher, "I'm off to run a river where I'm welcome!"

read more about
Next Story