Adventure: What were you thinking at this moment?
Erik Boomer: This is the moment where I hold my position and close my eyes as I anticipate the impact. All the work is done at this point, it is just time to enjoy the feeling of free fall.
Tim Kemple: I thinking, oh crap, don’t blow this shot! I’ve pre-focused, locked the exposure, and found a frame that I like—now just calm my breathing and wait for the moment.
A: Where is this waterfall? How high is it? How many times did you run it?
Erik: Sahalie Falls on the McKenzie River in Oregon. Sahalie is about 78 feet high. The entrance is a powerful sloping ramp feeding to the 78-foot free fall. The landing creates its own wind and is very aerated. I ran it twice in two days.
Tim: I think Erik is being modest. Everything I see on the Web calls this thing 100 feet. It’s just massive. The energy, roar, the mist are impressive by itself, never mind watching someone paddle off of it.
A: What’s different about running waterfalls in winter versus any other season?
Erik: In the winter you need to be comfortable with the elements. The proper gear and a good attitude are all you really need. The rainy winters of the Pacific Northwest raise the river levels to prime waterfall flows. Because of that, winter is one of the best times to paddle in the PNW.
Tim: We got really lucky with the weather. The fresh snow, combined with the flat light, really make the vibrant colors of the water, moss, and Erik’s boat pop. Of course, things are a bit colder and moving around can be a bit difficult, but that’s half the fun!
A: Tell us what happened as you entered the water after running this fall?
Erik: As I enter into the water, I try to keep my weight forward to “lawn dart” into the base of the falls. The impact was softer than expected. Within seconds I came out the the mist upright and stoked.
Tim: Can I just go on record as saying Erik is a stud?! I mean who drops a 100′ waterfall and just pops right out and paddles to shore like nothing happened?!
My job was easy in comparison, we had three still cameras shooting when Erik dropped. Two remote cameras and one in my hand. All of the exposure and focus work is dialed in ahead of time so I’m just anticipating the right moment.
A: For guys like you two, who regularly shoot in extreme environments, is this kind of thing easy?
Erik: No, waterfalls like this always have x factors that you have to deal with. It is impossible to anticipate exactly what the water will do as you approach the lip. Waves, boils, and eddy lines are constantly surging so you have to be prepared to react to the water the whole time. I spend a lot of time visualizing my line and preparing mentally before running a waterfall like this. I usually paddle 20 to 40 waterfalls of differing heights/character a year.
Tim: I always challenge myself to get the shot, but also do it from an angle or in a way that I haven’t seen before. I want to showcase how bad ass the athletes that I work with are. So I challenged myself on Sahalie to get an awe-inspiring, wide angle shots as well as something unique (the remote camera in top of the waterfall)
A: You kinda wouldn’t want to miss the shot on this one. How did you two keep in contact to make sure you were in sync?
Erik: We had someone stand near the lip of the falls who had visual contact with me(above the falls) and Tim(below the falls). Once all the cameras are setup and ready to go I get the signal. Then I decide when the time is right make the signal and go for it.
Tim: It wasn’t just myself shooting out there. In fact we were with Forge Motion Pictures (the guys that stole the show at Banff this year with Cold) who are making a new paddling film called Of Souls and Water. They are so incredibly talented and it was great to work with them.
We figured out a system with a spotter atop the waterfall where they would check to make sure all cameras were rolling and then let Boomer know we were good to go.
A: Erik, It looks like you are not wearing gloves?! What specific winter gear did you use?
Erik: I am not a fan of wearing gloves while paddling, I like to feel the paddle. A good drysuit is my favorite piece of gear in the winter. I also wear a head warmer that keeps the cold water out of my ears too. Staying active and moving a lot keeps me warm at times like this.
Tim: I wore gloves, with heater packs in them actually.
A: Did anything go wrong during this shoot? Any funny stories?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Erik: The funniest thing that happened was when Tim decided he needed to get to the far side of the river to get the right angle—little did he know how tough this would be. After about an hour of post-holing through belly-button deep snow in the rainy northwest, he showed up looking like a drowned rat. I could tell Tim was a little unhappy about how difficult it was to hike a mile through deep, wet snow. Then he had to go back out the same way.
Tim: Erik says drowned rat, I say handsome sea otter. Po-tā-to, po-tah-to. But he is right, I did get this idea in my head that I had to shoot from paddler’s right—an angle of the falls I hadn’t seen shot before. What I thought was going to be a ten-minute walk turned into an hour-long bushwack in wet deep snow. In retrospect I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
A: Who calls the shots on an adventure like this? Athlete or photographer?
Erik: I coordinate as much as possible with photographers to plan just the right shot. Planning the time of the day, location, etc. When it comes time to run the drop, the paddler needs to call the shot and decide when the time is right for him. It needs to be a personal decision.
Tim: Its a collaborative effort to find the right location, time of day etc. Once we’re on site its 100 percent the athletes call whether it’s a go or no go.
A: Fill in the blank: At this moment I was as ________ as a _________.
Erik: At this moment I was happy as a honey badger.
Tim: At this moment I was as happy (and as wet) as a clam.