No cash? No problem for Costa Rican kayaker Andre Coto Robles, who recently set up his Jaguar Kayak School to get kids paddling in Costa Rica (By Kevin Cripps)
It had only been a couple months since my interview with Andre Coto Robles. Unbeknownst to me, he’d made a migration north from Costa Rica to Colorado and I found him bounding up to me at the takeout for Escalante Creek, a beautiful Class V desert creek in western Colorado, which was running high after an exceptionally bountiful snow year. I really should not have been surprised that he already had a new story to share.
He proceeded to tell me that he’d just gotten to Colorado and found out that the Little White race in Washington state was about to happen. He didn’t want to miss the race, but he was only able to scrape up just enough money to buy a plane ticket there. True to form, he just went for it and figured when he got there he’d work out how to manage with little to no money left. He raced the Little White, laid down a very respectable time, and was feeling good at the afterparty, putting off any worries until manana. Well, at the afterparty, they drew numbers for a raffle and he ended up winning a brand new Waka kayak. He promptly turned around and sold it to a happy local, bought a plane ticket back to Colorado, and left with a big wad of cash in his pocket!
This truly epitomizes Coto’s life. Last March, after ending a two-hour interview with him for my whitewater storytelling podcast, Tales from the Cripps, I found myself reflecting on my own life. If I have regrets, and I do have regrets, I wish I would have done more, taken more risks, traveled more places, met more people, had more experiences. But it is so easy to say that in retrospect, when at the time, you can enumerate so many reasons not to do something: things that could go wrong, self-doubts, girlfriends, timing conflicts, career goals, familial and societal expectations. And you lack the maturity of hindsight.
But as the world has evolved, it’s become more apparent that risk and failure are the seeds of growth and success. Spending the evening talking with Coto, I could see how his diverse travels and experiences, and ensuing requirements to adapt in order to survive, have built a unique intelligence, resilience, and optimism.
And one of the beautiful things about his story is that it likely would have never happened without the unique bonds of the paddling community. And as much as I love paddling and the community that surrounds it, I often fear that there’s a level of narcissism inherent in the pursuit that is unhealthy. When I breathe my last breath, yes, I hope to look back at my life and be able to say that it was filled with joy—something kayakers have taught me a lot about—but I also hope to look back and think that I’ve contributed something meaningful, because a sum of luscious pleasures isn’t enough, at least not for me.
That’s why I loved how the interview I did with Coto came full circle. It starts with him taking a chance and traveling to a foreign country with no money in his pocket, and he just kept going. But when he finally returned home, he recognized what a great gift paddling had given to him. He recognized that this kid from a small town by the Sarapiqui river in Costa Rica—where families are tight knit and most people settle down young, start a family, and work a local job for the rest of their lives—really had no business setting off on his own to explore the world like few people do. And he recognized that this is a gift that should not end with him, but be extended to the kids in his community, a community that he still loves and calls home. So, he started the Jaguar Kayak School for kids in Costa Rica, which gives kids in his community, kids who live along the banks of one of the most beautiful paddling rivers in the world, kids who have no equipment or guidance to learn to paddle, a chance to experience the gift that he was given.
Inspired by the story, my friend Russ has started a Go Fund Me to help Coto purchase the equipment he needs to get kids on the water. Listen to the amazing story of Coto’s travels at Tales from the Cripps, episode 9. Pura Vida!