Chile, Colorado Kayak Pioneer Robbie Dastin Passes Away


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Mourning the loss of Robbie Dastin

Longtime Chilean and Colorado kayakers — especially those of the slightly older persuasion — are mourning the loss of one of their respective region’s pioneering paddlers with the passing Oct. 25 of longtime hairboater Robbie Dastin

Dastin passed away in Chile at the age of 48 after some extended health problems.

Look at the old “Rivers and Creeks of Colorado” guidebook, and many others, and you will see photos of Dastin throughout, pioneering runs that have turned into everything from classics to obscure mankfests no one is likely to repeat. But he was the common denominator on countless first descents in both Colorado and Chile, with a style perfectly suited for Class V exploratory runs.

Dastin grew up in New Hampshire and went to college at the University of Colorado, where he brought his East Coast kayaking skills to bear on some of the Rockies’ stoutest runs. Joining him were the likes of guidebook author Gordon Banks, Vince Green, Dan Gavere and iconic Boulder kayaker Paul Zirkleback. After Zirkleback died in a kayaking accident on Upper South Boulder Creek, his life jacket was given to Dastin, who wore it from then on.

“He was definitely one of the crazy, elite kayakers here back then,” says Landis Arnold, the former North American distributor of Prijon kayaks.

Friend John Mattson remembers him as a hardcore boater, always leading the charge. “He was intense and what a character,” says Mattson. “He and Vince were the next generation. They were known as the Rock Stars because they could party all night and then go out and run Class V-plus all day. They were doing the shit, for sure — all the intense runs here. He got a lot of life out of 48 years.”

“The last time I ran USB (Upper South Boulder Creek) was with him,” he adds, “and I almost died. I back endo’d and pitoned upside-down right above a death drop. They helped get me out.”

After spending a few years running Colorado´s rowdiest rivers, Dastin packed it up in 1995 and moved to Chile, where he ran a four-wheel-drive taxi company and had been located ever since — finding his life’s calling in exploring the rivers of the southern Andes.

Robbie Dastin
Dastin dropping in on a first descent of Chile’s Rio de la Plata.

Taking Chile by Storm

Based out of Pucón, Dastin became known as ¨Robbicito¨ and quickly became a true kayak legend in the region. Always inquisitive about new runs and a true explorer, Dastin was the impetus and driving force behind many first descents of what are now Chilean classics, including such rivers as the as Carhuello, Turbio, La Plata, Curringüe, Melado, Pascua, Llizán, Panqui and more.

“A good quote about him is what the Chileans came up with after boating in terror with Robbie down the extreme creeks in Chile: ‘Never follow a gringo,’” says Kurt Casey, a longtime Pucon-area kayaker and developer of the website, “He was a great paddler and did a lot to open up kayaking the harder runs in the region.”

Paddle with him till the end: A scene from Dastin’s memorial service in Pucon, Chile.

“Pucon was a great place for him,” adds Mattson. “He was running all the big waterfall runs there, Class V, plus, plus, plus. The last time I saw him was in Pucon and he had just gotten done with some extreme creek and got stuck behind a waterfall. Like always, he was super calm and relaxed, but full of energy. I have a lot of great memories…”

Services were held Monday morning Oct 26 at Templo Jesús de Nazareth in Pucón.

Tribute from John Mattson

My first remembrance of Robbie was on a tributary of the Big South Fork of the Cache le Poudre in northern Colorado. The stream has been named “Weird Creek” for a good reason because it is probably an unnatural boulder field with a very steep gradient and a fair amount of volume.One of his friends managed to get pinned sideways, and I was amazed at how fast Robbie rushed to the rescue, and probably saved his friend’s life.

I was an already somewhat old school boater and Robbie and Vince Taylor and their friends were leading the new armada and doing a fine job it. Their training ground was the extremely challenging and somewhat deadly USB, a steep section of South Boulder Creek from Pine Cliff to the big ugly damn above Eldorado canyon. The stolen water from the western slope creates a long season and a rare paradise for extreme kayakers.

They were constantly running the hardest local rivers at the highest levels and living a rock star lifestyle. My most memorable trip with him was an expedition to Ecuador in the early ‘90s, which included most of the Class V boaters in Colorado. Robbie’s somewhat fluent Spanish won him the role of chief translator and he was also one of the main probes on a trip that included quite a few first descents. Robbie’s style for self-support kayaking involved eating power bars and burying himself in the sand at night. This worked quite well in California, but it was a bit lacking for the jungle rivers of Ecuador.

His legend moved onward to Chile, and I’ve heard numerous accounts of hairraising fun-ness. Pucon was the perfect home for this expat wild man. He spoke Spanish quite well, the locals loved his spirit, and his adventurous mind led him to explore many new rivers, and run many of the local waterfalls.

The last time I saw Robbie was while roaming the streets of his friendly village. “Dude! Good to see you! How is the life?” He exclaimed with a big smile.

His exuberance was inspirational and a party was soon formed at our favorite hang out. Ecole’ was and still is a center of ecology, crazy expats, and good clean fun. The energy of the great volcano, raging rivers, and ancient forests seems to rub off on the inhabitants, and Robbie had found his place in the universe. He had just run a small creek called the Turbo, and his adrenaline was in high gear. This apply named remnant of an old lava flow is extremely steep and only runs during flash floods.

“Dude! It was the shit! I knew it was gonna be intense, but I just had this kinda weird feeling, and then my paddle hit a rock, and just like that I was sitting behind a waterfall; and the air was really moist! But I managed to hang on to my paddle and boat, and the rest of the run was really wild.” His giant smile and subtle chuckle shared his joy with everyone present.

It is with a deep sadness and a bunch of great memories that I salute this awesome being.

John Mattson is a longtime Colorado kayaker, builder and author of “Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet” 







  1. Thank you for the amazing tribute to my cousin, Robbie. Here in New England, his family loved him. He was a treasure lost way too soon. We appreciate the photos and stories. He was just a good guy. May his memory live on as long as their are rapids to run.

  2. Prayers and condolences to the Dastin family. Terrible loss and may God bless Robbie’s soul . Great memories attached!

  3. John

    Thank you for writing this wonderful remembrance of my nephew Robbie. Robbie’s family appreciates reading your perspective and your friendship you had with him. We are all grieving together because he was such a special person. I will always treasure my memories with him. I taught him about the outdoors. I taught him to swim, hike and ski. I had a special bond with him became not only was I his Aunty Gail but we shared the love of adventure and outdoors. I feel for you as his friend. I’m so happy you got to share in his adventures, friendship and life. We each have lost a little bit of ourselves with his passing. Again thank you for remembrance. It’s been helpful for his family including his parents. Gail Linehan

  4. Thanks for writing this Eugene. Brought back a lot of great memories surrounding Robbicito. We paddled a lot in Co, CA, and Chile. Pucon ended up a perfect fit for him. I’d hear random reports of Robbie induced mischief over the ears as helped direct paddlers around Southern Chile. Later as chance would have it, he visited us in Hood River ~4 years ago. I was able to introduce him to my wife and 2 kids. He hadn’t changed much and was as entertaining as ever. It was so amazing to catch up with him. One morning he walked with me as I walked my 6 yr old to school. Arriving at the school, in typical Robbicito fashion, he asked
    “You gonna work it or get worked?”
    This was replied with “What?”
    Robbie followed up with “You going to crush it or get crushed?”
    My 6 yr old finally got it and thought that was the best thing ever. As a family we use Robbicito quotes often.
    Cant wait to show my kids how Robbie bit off the tails on those huge purple flies in Chile some day.
    Much love Robbicito. You will be missed. Rest in Peace.

  5. Wow! What an amazing tribute to my cousin, Robbie! I just found this article and was so happy to read about Robbie’s friends and accomplishments. He sure was a daredevil to the max and enjoyed life to the fullest! Love you, Robbie!


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