It wasn’t quite a Dream Result for Rush Sturges. While in South America filming for his new Dream Results video, the kayaker broke his back running Chile’s 80-foot Bonito Falls.
Sturges was filming in the area with such top-notch boaters as Ian Garcia, Evan Garcia, Steve Fisher and Anton Immler. About three weeks earlier, Garcia and Tyler Bradt had paddled to the lip with the intention of running it, but backed off when they found the water level too low. Sturges’ crew then returned to the same water levels, but decided to run it.
Following are some excerpts from his account (available on his RiverRoots blog).
“With only five more days in the country, I felt pretty anxious to get this drop in the bag,” he says. “From a distance, it looks good to go, but when you get to the lip you realize how screwed up the entrance is. A diagonal lateral feeds to the right, then current moves back to the left, before finally falling around 60 feet to the pool at the bottom. You don’t want to be on the river left as it’s a big flake that could send you flat.”
After a sketchy scout, involving wading to the lip with ropes, Garcia ran it first and emerged unscathed, despite a blown sprayskirt. Next up was Sturges. “The entrance was smooth – a sweet boof from the left, up against the right wall, back to the left, and then momentum back right,” he says. “But this is where I made my mistake. As I hit the lip the flake grabbed my right edge and tossed me flat and sideways. I hucked my weight back and forward to try and get the bow down to no avail. I landed sideways, flat and sitting upright. Basically the worst position to be in…”
Sturges says he couldn’t breath for about 30 seconds. “All I could do is gargle muffled wheezing,” he says. “It sounds like I’m dying on the video. My muscles were all twitching and it was pretty clear something was not right. But I had full mobility and the pain wasn’t actually that bad.
The next step was getting him out of the canyon. With vertical walls on both sides, the only way out besides paddling was via helicopter. So he paddled out the remaining few hundred yards of Class III and then hiked up a 300-foot clif to the road. Then they got in the truck drove 1.5 hours to a hospital in Bariloche.
The result: a compression fracture and broken a piece off his L2 vertebrae. “Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be that bad of a fracture and it did not affect my nervous system,” he says. “It sucks, but I think I can make a full recovery with good rehab.”
He adds that he expects three to four months of rehabilitation, but is mentally prepared for the recovery. “If you continue to step it up in any sport it’s unlikely that you will go unscathed. I’m just really thankful it isn’t worse…”
Sturges says he hopes to be back in California by mid-January to begin his recovery.
As final words to the wise, he offers this: “For any future or current waterfall hucker, remember: It’s always better to land flat tucking forward then sitting upright. Had I done so I may not have broken my back. That being said, there was hardly any aeration and I had a lot of momentum.
And he can see a silver lining. “In reality, if I had to hurt myself, now is not a bad time. I’m under the deadline to finish “Dream Result” as well as some music. I’ve already mentally prepared myself for an injury at some stage in my kayaking career, and now was the time. If you continue to step it up in any sport it’s unlikely that you will go unscathed. I’m just really thankful it isn’t worse
For more, see his River Roots Blog