Relive Rafa Ortiz's Steepest River World Record

Watch three kayakers execute the first-ever top-to-bottom of the steepest river in Central America.
By Dom Granger

Most professional athletes aim to break a world record once in their careers. But for Rafa Ortiz, that box was ticked three years ago. In 2013, he and fellow whitewater kayakers Rush Sturges and Evan Garcia managed to become the first people to kayak down the steepest navigable section of whitewater in the world in the Rio Santo Domingo, a river that winds its way through the mountains of Guatemala and southern Mexico.

The crew at the steep stretch of Rio Santo Domingo

The group of kayakers scouting a rapid at the Santo Domingo river during the steepest kayakable river descent
The kayakers scouting one of the rapids © Marcos Ferro/Red Bull Content Pool

There were some previous attempts to kayak every waterfall in one single descent, but it had never been fully completed. So why is it such a big thing to complete these waterfalls when he's already dropped down so many?

Because it's possible. And because it's pretty sick! It's the one place on the planet where you can run these heights of waterfalls one after the other.

Rafa Ortiz


The kind of place where mistakes are not allowed

Rafael Ortiz performs at the Santo Domingo river during the descent of the steepest kayakeable river in the world
Rafa Ortiz after completing one more section © Marcos Ferro/Red Bull Content Pool

The main challenge lies in the fact that the falls come one right after the other. With names like Toboggan, Raw Dawg, Meat Slide and Dome Drop, you can certainly expect some gnarly stuff. On top of that, the river descends like a set of stairs — there's very little space between each drop. As we explained in a story about the wildest rivers in the world, if this section of Rio Santo Domingo was a ski slope, it would be a double black diamond.

If you break your paddle or blow your deck, you have about five seconds to get your act together before you’re swept over the next 70 feet!

Evan Garcia


One of the river's many intense drops


Rafael Ortiz performs at the Santo Domingo river during the descent of the steepest kayakable river in the world in Mexico
Rafa Ortiz in his element © Marcos Ferro/Red Bull Content Pool

Rafa Ortiz was on a mission to run the biggest amount of massive waterfalls he could as part of his preparation for attempting to paddle down Niagara Falls. Check out the movie about his adventure: Chasing Niagara will be available to watch on Red Bull TV from Dec. 25 for two weeks.

Rafael Ortiz
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