It was an easy task: merely paddle down one of the world’s greatest rivers in record time without pausing to watch the stunning vistas.
Last January, the U.S. Men’s Rafting Team set a goal to paddle the 277-mile length of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon in record time.
They spent over a year on a custom-built craft of their design to make the trip.
“In the pitch black of night on the Colorado River’s burly Lava Falls rapid, an aluminum bar had snapped and punctured a 4-inch hole in the inflatable beam of the custom-built craft,” The Denver Post reported.
But along the way, filmmaker Brendan Leonard has put together a terrific film about the hard work, craftsmanship and athleticism that went into this amazing pursuit.
“It was an exciting couple moments. There was this elation that we had made it through and we had such a clean line and then coming face-to-face with the reality that our boat was sinking,” said Seth Mason, one of seven whitewater athletes who had spent the last year training and designing the speediest raft with a goal of breaking a record set by a kayaker. “It was an emotional roller coaster.”
The team before them — the world champion Behind the 8-Ball rafting team — had set a 24-hour record in a similar vessel in 2006, paddling from the Upper Colorado below Gore Canyon to Moab.
Mason’s team set about designing a boat that could hold eight paddlers – the team itself is only six men.
They ripped the sliding mechanisms off of rowing machines, the Post reports, and mounted them with lightweight river seats, with the rowers each on an oar and their backs facing downstream. They built an aluminum frame that weighed more than 400 pounds.
They also tried a carbon-fiber frame on the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon that flexed too much. The design ended up a hybrid of carbon and aluminum.
They then mounted the frame on two 48-foot tubes made by a company, Jack’s Plastic Welding in Aztec, New Mexico, that makes virtually indestructible river tools.
“I said yes to the project because it was my friend Forest Woodward asking and I trusted him,” said Leonard, who made the incredible movie below about the endeavor. “Seven or eight guys from the U.S. Men’s Rafting Team would attempt a speed run in January 2017, and Forest and I and our friends from Gnarly Bay would make a short film about it.
“There were plenty of unanswered questions—the raft team was designing a custom boat, for instance, and they hadn’t yet decided if they’d use oars or paddles,” Leonard wrote in Adventure Journal. “They hadn’t decided how many people would be in the boat, or which people. We didn’t know how the logistics of trying to film a speed run would or could work, or if we could film them at all on the actual speed run (we couldn’t).”