Behind the Scenes: Filming Kayaking’s “Most Epic Shot Ever”

When world champion kayaker Dane Jackson launched off Chile’s towering 134-foot Salto del Maule waterfall, it made more than just a splash. The recent first known kayak descent kicked up a massive attention wake across the Web, garnering exposure in major media outlets, including a prominently placed sports feature earlier this week in The New York Times. Jackson’s career is on a relentless trajectory, seeming to up the ante with every refresh of the social media feed.

An attempt to descend the world’s second-tallest waterfall ever kayaked is an accomplishment worthy of the attention on its own. The widespread coverage, however, may also have something to do with the mesmerizing footage captured of the feat (after which, Jackson’s spraydeck imploded on impact, flooding his kayak and separating him from the boat, and a claim to a true ‘complete descent’). The view contrasts electrifying blue water cascading off an escarpment in the dry Chilean landscape. Then we are brought to the lip, above Jackson, and plummeting with him through whitewater and rainbows. If there was ever a place and a time to use the label this deserving, it’s here and now: The shot is epic.

Credit Raphael Boudreault-Simard, drone pilot and owner of Flow Motion Aerials, who captured the hovering, then dive-bombing perspective of the descent with his team.

“If I started the flight path where Dane hits a specific place above the waterfall,” Boudreault-Simard says, “then when I am freefalling, he should be freefalling, and that way we can freefall together.”

As a kayaker (among other outdoor activities), Boudreault-Simard noted that this was the type of shot he had been dreaming of: One that would show what racing drones are capable of capturing. He has been training for a year with what are referred to as first-person-view (FPV) drones, where the pilot is wearing goggles and seeing from the drone’s vantage point.

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The FPV drone setup used to get the shot. Courtesy Raphael Boudreault-Simard / Novus Select - Bligh Gillies

Boudreault-Simard got the call from Jackson about a month ago to see if he would like to join the production unit for the attempt, which would also include photographer/director Corey Rich (no stranger to eye-popping shots you may have seen recently in The Dawn Wall) plus crew from Novus Select, and local paddler-filmmaker liaison Lorenzo Andrade-Astorga. Once the team arrived at Salto del Maule, Boudreault-Simard conversed with Jackson to gain an understanding of the intended line he would take, then practiced various flight paths to find their planned shot. Once they had what they were looking for, Boudreault-Simard visualized the line over and over, timing it with the water and with Jackson’s path.

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A rendering of the intended flight path to capture the shot in parallel to Jackson’s freefall. Courtesy Flow Motion Aerials

“Everything happens in a matter of seconds,” he said. “If I am one second too late the whole shot is not going to work. If I am one second too early there will be no one in the waterfall as I am freefalling.”

As it were, Jackson put on the river above the drop, Boudreault-Simard unleashed his drone in the air, and we have the result to watch.

Though the footage speaks for itself, the paddling world quickly and vocally reacted, dubbing it everything from “mind-blowing,” to the “sickest combination of filming and kayaking,” to the heavy-hitters of kayak expedition filmmaking in agreement, with Rush Sturges labeling it for the annals as “THE.MOST.EPIC.KAYAKING.SHOT.EVER.”

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The full production crew included: Corey Rich / Novus Select—Director, Photographer; Lorenzo Astorga / Nomade Media—Local Fixer, Camera Operator; Thea Hardy / Novus Select—Lead Producer; Raphael Boudreault-Simard / Flow Motion Aerials—FPV Drone Pilot; Bligh Gillies / Novus Select—Camera Operator Courtesy Novus Select - Bligh Gillies

— Follow Flow Motion Aerials and Jackson on Instagram.

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