Colin Kemp 09/09/2017 | Posted in Clinics, Dynamic Duo, Event Coverage, Events, Family Zone, Internationalisation, Nirvana, Playboating, River Running, rivers, Trip Reports, Trips, United States, Whitewater, Wrap Ups, WW Disciplines
Rafa Ortiz-Superstar Kayaker or Urban Cowboy?
By Dave Lindo (owner OKC Kayak and Tulsa Kayak)
(Damn it! Another visitor to the state of Oklahoma, whose preconceived notions and perpetuated stereotypes would soon lead to his downfall. …by the way, some of the following story is true. You decide which parts!)
As a lifelong “OKIE”, one of my biggest pet peeves is when companies or our tourism department goes with some sort of branding involving Cowboys or Indians. I knew our state had once again failed to project the true image of culture when I arrived at Will Rogers Airport in OKC to pick up Rafa Ortiz, for a weekend of free clinics at the new 44-million-dollar whitewater park. No sooner had I pulled up curbside to grab the waterfall dropping, paddling phenom, when it was clearly evident he had gone out of his way to dress the part. You see Rafa was sporting heavily starched blue jeans, pointy toed cowboy boots twice as long as his feet, a dinner plate sized belt buckle, and a HUGE cowboy hat branded with a Redbull logo. ( ….clearly not what I was expecting.) He even greeted me with a “HOWDY PARTNER!”, and I only detected the slightest of accents from his home country of Mexico.
I instantly realized the weekend was going to be long if we didn’t get Rafa to quickly assimilate. We whisked him away to our house (yes, he did ask on the ride there if we lived in a tipi—as honestly many folks do when they find out you live in Oklahoma), and soon after had traded his cowboy garb and boot spurs for a pair of Chacos, a swimsuit, and a maple leaf lapel pin from his new home country, Canada. Yes, Oklahoma is a very RED state, and we wanted to be extremely careful to not have Rafa mistaken as a “bad hombre”!
Despite much talk to the contrary, Rafa kept telling us how excited he was to get to go to his first rodeo. After nearly two hours of convincing, Rafa finally believed me that there would not be any bulls to ride at this clinic and the only rodeo was a whitewater RODEO he himself was teaching. The look of disappointment on his face was heart-wrenching.
Morning came early and we were off to Riversport Rapids Whitewater Center, a man-made park in the concrete jungle of downtown OKC, with Class III+ features. Rafa’s eyes bulged out of his head when he stepped out of the car, as it was not the half dozen Oklahoma whitewater paddlers he thought would be present. Much the contrary, there were 150 whitewater boaters assembled and ready for Rafa to preach the gospel of whitewater to them. You could visibly see Rafa take a big gulp, and I am convinced he was thankful he was wearing dark shorts. While a veteran of teaching, Rafa had never had taught such a large number of students and big variety of skill levels all at once. We broke the groups up by paddling ability, with many, many community volunteers helping to teach various topics. At last count, this still left 73 raw beginners in the first class Rafa would teach. Some hypnosis may have been involved, but after an hour of teaching, these newbies were paddling in a counter-clockwise, coordinated direction in a multicolored, Jackson Kayak, paddling soup. With Rafa’s help, this group was gracefully paddling the lower channels before lunch.
Afternoon sessions had the more experienced paddlers learning how to break down big water, master boofs, and grasp other advanced river running concepts. There would also be time later for some of the newbies to learn eskimo rolls under Ortiz’s tutelage.
We had several young students in the class. These elementary age kids, not only got eskimo rolls, but ran some sections of the whitewater. Later in the day, Rafa would take the kids and a select few adults on tandem whitewater kayak rides in the Jackson Dynamic Duo. This was the highlight of the weekend seeing people whose skills might not allow them to experience the enormous waves and holes of the rapids otherwise.
Late on a very long and intensive day one, Rafa was so physical tired, his arm was shaking just trying to hold his paddle up. This would not stop him from living out his dream of becoming an urban rodeo cowboy. His kayaking was done for the day, but he insisted that he not return to his home on the Little White Salmon without riding the inflatable bull, pool toy down the rapids. To date, none had done so without falling off. Run one: BULL 1, RAFA 0, Run two: BULL 2, RAFA 0. Run 3: BULL 3, RAFA plus child passenger-0. One last run, RAFA was able to master the first successful descent on inflatable bull of OKC Riversport Rapids, and you’d have thought that Rafa had just ran Niagra Falls or something.
Saturday night we used toothpicks to hold Rafa’s tired eyes open long enough for him to enjoy a party with the paddlers at OKC Kayak-Paddlesport Superstore. The most telling thing was the oft repeated comment, “Rafa is no nice and down to earth.” We can confirm, Rafa is extremely humble, and a genuine class act. Despite a huge turnout, he gave everyone a lot of personal attention, and did so with a huge, and enthusiastic smile.
Day two went equally well, with another massive turnout and an even bigger increase of paddler skills. All appearances led us to believe that Rafa was having a serious amount of fun himself, splatting the walls of the course, and stern squirting every rapid in his Jackson Antix. I myself was enjoying the added stability and speed of the new Jackson Nirvana on the course.
After myself and others had Rafa autograph every paddling item we owned, we finally let him call the weekend a success. As he was leaving out of town I heard him muttering something about running 190-foot Palouse Falls on said inflatable pool toy. Only time will tell.
(OKC Kayak offers a heartfelt thanks to Jackson Kayak, Rafa Ortiz, Riversport Rapids, and the over 100 volunteers who taught classes, loaded and unloaded kayaks, fitted people with boats and gear, cooked meals, fished boaters out of the water, took photos, and so much more. We are grateful to live in a community where paddling is huge and customers are fiercely loyal to our store and Jackson Kayak as a brand.)