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Capturing a challenging whitewater run in Newfoundland

Jeff Martin is shown going over a big drop in the Terra Nova River known as Jim’s Drop. The gruelling trip was documented in “Rising Waters”, which will be screened this Saturday at Hampton Hall Theatre.
Jeff Martin is shown going over a big drop in the Terra Nova River known as Jim’s Drop. The gruelling trip was documented in “Rising Waters”, which will be screened this Saturday at Hampton Hall Theatre. - Contributed

Documentary follows group’s quest to be first down lower Terra Nova River in tandem canoe

In June last year, four men attempted to be the first to run all the rapids of the lower Terra Nova River in tandem canoe.

The challenges they faced — including heavy rains and high-water levels —were captured on film and will be shown in the documentary “Rising Waters”, screening at Hampton Hall Theatre at the Marine Institute this Saturday evening.

Richard Alexander was one of the paddlers, and the documentary filmmaker.

He wouldn’t confirm whether or not the group was successful.

“I can’t tell you that — you wouldn’t want to watch the film then,” he joked.

“Let me put it this way,” he continued.

“If you’re going to do a challenging set of rapids like the Lower Terra Nova in a tandem canoe, you want to make it as easy for yourself as possible, and when we showed up we were expecting the water levels to drop — and they were probably about 50 per cent higher than we had expected. So, we already started off on a bad foot, and then as the trip was going over the next couple of days, we got some heavy, heavy rain.

“We did our best — I’ll leave it at that,” he hinted.

There were four paddlers altogether, each with at least 20 years of paddling experience: Richard Alexander, Corey Locke, Darren McDonald and Jeff Martin.

Despite their extensive combined experience, there’s only so much a canoe can endure.

Rapids are classified according to difficulty. For reference, whitewater kayaks can handle severe Class 5 rapids. The lower Terra Nova River rapids are a Class 4.

“With a tandem canoe, the sort of upper level is a Class 3 rapid … so we’re trying to push the limits of what the boat is actually capable of doing,” said Alexander.

He said that challenge was a part of what enticed them to do the trip.

“Part of the fun is actually putting yourself in a situation where you’re scared and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to make it,” he said.

The other reason they were up for the challenge — and for documenting it on film — was because they wanted to pay homage to the folks who went down the Terra Nova River first.

“There’s this whole generation of paddlers that went down the Terra Nova first and named all the rapids and had all the experiences, and taught us how to do these things, and one of the most popular — and one of the best mentors we’ve had — was a man named Jim Price, who passed away three years ago.”

Alexander said the film tells the story of Price and his generation of paddlers, and connects them to the current generation.

Filming trips is a common practice for the local paddling community. “Rising Waters” is the 13th short film his group has put together, but it’s the first they created purposely to share with a wider audience.

That purpose gave the already challenging trip yet another challenge — creating a high-quality film.

“You’re trying to use expensive camera equipment and sound equipment in the rain. There’s two big portages on it and I’m there with the camera, and the boys are picking up all the heavy canoes and everything, walking with it, and they’re looking at me like, ‘OK, Richard, that’s enough – put the camera down, time to start lugging gear.’”

But the effort paid off.

“Rising Waters” has already been accepted into the Waterwalker Film Festival, and it’s being considered for another festival.

The documentary will be screened at 7 p.m. this Saturday at Hampton Hall Theatre at the Marine Institute on Ridge Road.

juanita.mercer@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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