BOISE, Idaho — Have you ever thought about dropping a 115-foot waterfall in a kayak? For most people, that is something most people have never imagined, but Hayden Voorhees successfully descended the Salto de la Puma in Chile.
Kayak Session Magazine named Hayden Voorhees as the under 21 paddler of the year, an award the judges the best kayakers in the world, and this Idaho native rose to the top.
"There are people nominated from all over the world, from France to New Zealand, other parts of the U.S. and Canada," said Voorhees. "It's super cool, I'm really thankful for it."
It was quite the year for Hayden, who spent last winter in Chile, commonly known as a whitewater mecca for paddlers, and that is where he launched himself off the biggest waterfall he has ever done.
"This one is really crazy because you can't see where the waterfall is until you turn around the corner, at that point, it is too late to change your mind," said Voorhees. "I do get scared and nervous, but I focus on what I'm about to do, but as soon as I put my boat in the water, then all those nerves go away."
Voorhees returned to Idaho in March as the pandemic began, which forced him to stay close to home, but Idaho is known as the whitewater state for a reason.
When the water started to rising, there was plenty of action for Hayden and his brothers.
"Idaho has some of the best whitewater in the whole country," said Voorhees.
Hayden's parents moved to Idaho because of the North Fork of the Payette River, and they taught their boys Alec, Hayden and Connor to kayak at a young age.
"I wouldn't be able to do what I do without them, my parents taught me how to kayak when I was six-years-old," said Hayden. "I just kind of followed my older brother Alec as he was leading the way."
Alec has always been a phenomenal kayaker. In the spring, Alec and Hayden tackled the South Fork of the Clearwater River, the North Fork of the Payette River and they made a trip to Washington for the Little White Salmon River.
Hayden also made another unique descent flying off the right side of Lower Mesa Falls in eastern Idaho. Many kayakers navigate the left side of the falls, but very few take on the other side of this 60-footer.
"It's a different waterfall because halfway down there is a rock that sticks out," said Voorhees. "You go off the waterfall, hit the rock, and go off another waterfall, essentially we call that a reconnect."
Flying off a waterfall seems crazy, but kayakers spend an incredible amount of effort scouting a waterfall, looking for dangers and figuring out the safest line.
Running waterfalls also takes skill and technique to accomplish this rare form of art because every waterfall is different.
"The taller it is, the more vertical you want to be to go deeper creating less impact," said Voorhees. "If you land flat, you are not going to go underwater, you are going to stop, that's really hard on your body, so the more vertical you can land, the better."
It's a dangerous sport, Hayden Voorhees has suffered a concussion running a waterfall, but for the most part, he has been relatively injury-free throughout his kayaking career.
Voorhees became the fifth kayaker to descend the Salto de la Puma, he told me he didn't feel much impact when he landed.
Kayaking legend Evan Garcia broke his leg running the Salto de la Puma back in 2013 when his boat folded on impact.