Ever since Dean Jackson saw Chile’s Salto del Maule waterfall four years ago he’s been obsessed with the idea of kayaking down it. He was constantly looking at photos and videos of what he calls the ‘perfect’ falls, in a breathtaking location.
But until 2020 he wasn’t even sure the pool at its base was deep enough to be survivable, until January when he was sent a good video clip of what could become the second highest waterfall kayak in history. ‘I knew it was time to see it for myself and make the call.’ But how did the 26-year old reigning ICF Canoe Freestyle World Champion feel as he lined up the drop?
RSNG Can you describe the feeling on the edge, just as you are about to drop? DEAN JACKSON, WHITEWATER DROPPER ‘It’s hard to describe as it happens so fast but, more than anything, it's the moment where everything kind of snaps into place for me.’
‘That’s where it’s time to see if the lip acts like you imagined, or react properly if not. It also is the most glorious feeling coming over that blind horizon and then staring down the beast, because most waterfalls you get water in your face and you realistically only have clear vision as you are coming over the lip.’
‘That's the moment you remember most and Maule was the greatest I've ever experienced.’
Preparing for what could happen and accepting that, allows me to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons
RSNG How do you prepare yourself mentally for something this intense? DJ ‘The biggest thing is making sure to cover all the bases from the line itself, to what could go wrong and where to have safety, and then have an internal discussion on whether or not I have 100% confidence in hitting the line. By covering all of that, feeling 100% on the line, as well as preparing for what could happen and accepting that, it allows me to make sure I am doing it for the right reasons.’
‘For Maule the line looked amazing, there was solid safety, and it was a dream drop of mine, so I knew there was nothing else I'd rather be doing then.’
RSNG Did everything go to plan, or were there things that went wrong? DJ ‘In the end, everything from the lip, to my line, to the hit at the bottom went as perfectly as I could have ever imagined. Unfortunately, after I hit, my skirt came off filling my boat with water.’
‘Although I did stay in my boat as I popped up, I ended up coming out of my boat after which does take away from it being a perfect descent as I wasn't able to simply just paddle away from the drop.’
‘That being said, with a drop of that power and height, how things turned out is still a win for me. Though things could have gone a bit better, with waterfalls of that size, things could go much worse, so I am stoked on how it all turned out.’
If I had measured it beforehand and realised it was the tallest drop I had done, maybe I would have been more nervous
RSNG Is it the most adrenaline spiking kayaking experience that you have ever undertaken? DJ ‘It definitely was one of my greatest experiences. I wouldn't necessarily say it was another level of adrenaline considering I still had to focus on what I had done before. I also didn't know the height as I wanted to wait until after I ran it to measure it.’
‘I wanted to wait until after because, by looking at it, I felt it looked a similar height to what I have done before. Everything made me really confident in doing the line right, which allowed me to do exactly what I needed to do.’
‘If I had measured it beforehand and realised it was the tallest drop I had done, maybe I would have been more nervous or hesitant. I would have still had a great line, but I might not have had the same confidence.’
RSNG How proud are you that you have overcome hearing difficulties to excel in your sport? DJ ‘I wouldn't say there was much to overcome as there isn't much auditory stuff I can't pick up or need to pick up. Beyond maybe not being able to hear what the plan for the next day is at the campfire, there's not a whole lot of disadvantages.’
‘If anything, it's an advantage as I am able to read lips, which means I can understand what someone is saying from across the river when describing what's coming up or what the plan is.’
RSNG Are you in a pursuit to beat Tyler Bradt's 189-foot Palouse Falls world record? DJ ‘I wouldn't call it a pursuit, although I'm sure there is one out there somewhere. It's going to be hard to find a drop as perfect as Palouse. If I find it, and the opportunity presents itself, maybe I'll take a look but I'm not on the hunt as I have got lots of other things I want to do.’
WHAT NEXT? Go behind the scenes of daredevil trials biker Danny MacAskill’s new video Gymnasium to find out how he does his jaw-dropping tricks, in our interview here.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
Follow this article’s author on Instagram @The_Adventure_Fella