What's up Reddit!

My name is Chris Loomis, but more people know me as "Cheeks". I'm a whitewater canoeist and a filmmaker, and I typically make films about paddling canoes. This winter, I went to Costa Rica to paddle the amazing whitewater that country has. Unfortunately, due to the privatization of utility production, almost every river in Costa Rica is under threat of inundation, or is being dammed already. I made a video in hopes that showcasing the beautiful rivers down there might help save some of them.

PROOF: This is the most recent film I made about paddling in Costa Rica. It's got monkeys, poison dart frogs, and crocodiles too: VIDEO

This is an interview I just had with Canoe&Kayak magazine about said video: Interview with Canoe & Kayak

And this is me paddling off of a waterfall in a canoe: Ohiopyle Falls

I love to paddle off of waterfalls, and make films about paddling off waterfalls. Ask Me Anything!

EDIT 2: Happy to answer any more questions

Comments: 127 • Responses: 55  • Date: 

koreanknife11 karma

what's the highest waterfall you went down?

CheeksOC110 karma

Between 20-25 feet. Some of the biggest I've run are Potter's Falls on the Crooked Fork, which is about 20 feet, and Wonder Falls on the Lower Big Sandy, which is 18. I have my eyes set on a few 30 footers to work towards. The highest waterfall that's been run in a canoe is only 55 feet, and that guy broke his back, so running big drops in a canoe is really uncharted territory

French874 karma

stupid question here, but what do people use for bigger drops? kayaks? rafts?

CheeksOC15 karma

Kayaks. The talles drop in a kayak is 190 feet, Palouse Falls in WA. Since there are so fewer open boaters there are less canoeists to try and run big drops

asc3310 karma

With a job like that, what seems like an adventure or crazy thing to you? Skydiving? Bullfighting? Preparing taxes?

CheeksOC110 karma

Haha I just prepared my taxes, that was pretty daunting!

Strange as it may seem, I don't like falling. When I paddle off of a waterfall I feel like I have control so it doesn't scare me as much, but for pure adrenaline I would probably skydive or bungie jump.

I also got really drunk one night and purposefully swam over the waterfall in the picture, that was the coolest thing I think I've ever done

asc332 karma

If you were gonna get drunk and do something daunting one night, I'm sure glad you chose the waterfall and not your taxes.

CheeksOC15 karma

I did them last night, drunk, because I forgot today was April 15th. Hoping to avoid audit...

rocketman07394 karma

What's the best dam/damn pun you've ever made?

CheeksOC13 karma

Haha none that I can think of, although I got stuck in a pretty horrific hydraulic (sticky spot) caused by a dam, so I'm sure I said dammit a lot

rocketman07395 karma

I bet you "weir" glad to get out of that one.

pingOfdeath3 karma

Being from South East U.S. I have many friends that Kayak and I myself dabble in it when my friends feel like going back to the baby stuff. What made you choose canoe over kayak and can you roll one? I am a big guy and even the largest kayaks put me at the top of the weight limit. Should I look into a canoe myself?

CheeksOC12 karma

Why I chose canoeing?

At first it was simply because I knew how to canoe, having grown up with it, and didn't know how to kayak. But now I've grown to love the differences. Canoeing can be a bit more difficult at first, so it's like flyfishing, teleskiing, etc. But then you reach a point where it stops being harder and just becomes fun. That's what I love.

I canoe because for me, it's the best way to get that awesome feeling I get from paddling.

CheeksOC11 karma

Rolling: Yes you can roll a canoe, although it is a little harder than rolling a kayak. but its much safer than kayaking in terms of protecting your shoulders. And canoes are more stable and flip less than kayaks, so the need to roll will be less.

If you're a big dude (200lbs or more) Blackfly Canoes makes a canoe called the Octane 91 that big guys seem to love. And you can use it on easy Class II-III stuff where the ocasional swim is not as big a deal before stepping up your game. And remember, we're all between swims!

pingOfdeath1 karma

Thanks for the info. I will for sure look into it. I have another question related to the rivers being shut off. In my area my friends are all waiting on either rainfall or for a damn to release so they can run the river. I think the Chatooga was the last I heard them speak of that they were waiting on. If they damn up the rivers will they not release them like they do here so that they can be ran at certain times or is this not the case. I watched a bit of your video as I am at work; if you did explain this in it I apologize. I will watch the rest when I get home. Either way, it is sad that this is happening because I am sure it effects the entire eco-system in the area.

CheeksOC12 karma

Some of the dams do release, like the Rio Saripaqui. However the act of creating a dam destroys the gradient upstream, so in the case of the Rios Balsa and Reventazon, we will lose these gems forever. The dam on the Chattooga has inundated a whole section of what probably is amazing whitewater, and it will never run because there is a lake on top of it.

FWIW, you're probably thinking of the Tallulah that drains into the Chattooga, as it ony runs on dam release whereas the Chattooga is a free flowing river (protected as a Wild and Scenic River) These releases don't happen, they are negotiated for by American Whitewater, a lobbying group that protects our right to "navigate the river" which is a law that basically means you can own land, but you can't own a river, so you can't prevent people from paddling if they can legally access the river. American Whitewater has negotiated for a ton of releases, but unfortunately, there is no infrastructure like AW in Costa Rica and not many people to speak for the rivers

TL;DR American Whitewater fights for releases in the US, there is no group like this in Costa Rica

BigJim59453 karma

How do you make money?

CheeksOC13 karma

I got money last year from three ways. One was being a raft guide and canoeing instructor in the summer. The second was through my sponsorship, either from selling boats or from commission off of selling boats. The thrid was through filmmaking. I did some freelance work and actually got a few tips in my Vimeo tip jar. The tip jar money I spend on beer haha, I think I got 40 bucks last year from it

Most of the money on I made last year was from freelance projects and the guide gig

KrunkinK2 karma

What's your take on Niagara Falls?

CheeksOC19 karma

Doable. Maybe. Possibly.

One C1er (closed canoe) tried in 1990. They still haven't found him.

The problem is the waterfall erodes so badly that there are probably tons of rocks at the base of Horseshoe falls that we can't see because of the mist. But if I ever get terminal cancer, I might give it a shot

EDIT: Jesse Sharp Paddling Off Niagara

KrunkinK2 karma

You've got guts man, best wishes!

CheeksOC16 karma

I would not do it because the risk of death is too high, so if I was going to do it it would have to be at a point in my life where death was not a bad outcome

BigJim59452 karma

How dangerous is what you do? Like, do you feel your life is at risk?

CheeksOC12 karma

My life is no more at risk on the river than it is driving to the river, but that said, yeah, it is. People die way too much. I watched someone die from thirty yards away and couldn't do a damn thing. Paddling whitewater is all about managing and mitigating risk. You have to look at the difficulty and the hazards of what you are running, be brutally honest about how your skills and experience match up, and then execute.

For me it's the greatest feeling in the world, but it's not without consequence

Afa12341 karma

Have you ever been stuck in a precarious situation, like the kayaker stuck in an eddy behind a waterfall?

CheeksOC11 karma

Nothing that bad, but I've gotten beaten down in a hole long enough that I've had time to think about what it would feel like to breath water, gotten my foot entrapped once for a brief second, and had a very long swim on the Grand Canyon, about two miles all in all, where I was pretty exhausted.

kittiesandbeer1 karma


CheeksOC12 karma

No I've never kayaked or bellyaked. I have no interest in bellyaking off of a waterfall

orcaporca1 karma

Ever been to Norway? If not you should come here. Do you only use open hull canoes or do you also use the other kind?

CheeksOC11 karma

No but I'd love to go

dixon0110011 karma

When you go over the falls do you prepair for a crash, or do you try to keep going?

CheeksOC11 karma

I always try to land with good body position, head tucked forward with my arms protecting my face. Keeping the body bent forward reduces the axial loading on your spine, which helps keep it from breaking

ZER0MUS1 karma

What is the worst thing that could feasibly happen to you on the job? Something you realistically face every time you go off of a waterfall--but maybe not anything as drastic or obvious as slamming your head on a rock?

CheeksOC13 karma

The scariest thing for me would be getting entrapped under a rock or a log. I've had a few close calls and unfortunately I was a part of an incident this March where someone in my group became entrapped in a rock and drowned. This is the scariest thing I could happen.

Breaking my back is always in the back of my mind.

But realistically, the biggest hardships I face on a day to day basis are cuts and bruises, and living in the back of my pickup truck

lemlemons1 karma

wait, youre a guy who canoes off of waterfalls and lives out of his pickup? i feel like this should have been mentioned sooner...

CheeksOC11 karma

Haha not crazy, just frugal

Blue_no_Yellow1 karma

This sounds amazing! Have you ever been seriously harmed while doing this, or been in a situation where you felt like you were lucky not to get hurt?

And how did you start to turn canoeing into job? What made you decide to seriously pursue it?

CheeksOC13 karma

I hurt my shoulder in October, a deep rotator cuff contusion that could have been a lot worse. Shoulder injuries are the scariest injury I could have because it means no paddling, but I was able to paddle again a month later, albeit with lingering soreness.

Scariest moment I ever had was a loooong swim I had on the Cheoah river in NC where I got my foot momentarily entrapped and almost broken, and almost got stuffed under a log.

I started canoeing before I could walk, I think I was about 1 when my Dad took me out for the first time. When I started whitewater four years ago, it made more sense to canoe, so that's what I did. I never thought I would run anything hard, but then I got addicted, and have been doing it ever since.

Blue_no_Yellow1 karma

Its wonderful that you have been able to make a career out of something you love so much.

Also, Cheeks? How did that nickname come about?

CheeksOC13 karma

I should have said AMAA…no its not really that bad. A few years ago I forgot to wear a belt one day and as I was walking through a small town on the way to the put in, a local hollered over, "Who's that boy with his cheeks hanging out?" And my friends heard so it stuck ever since.

Goorilla971 karma

Have you ever quoted The Emperors New Groove while canoeing(?) with someone?

CheeksOC14 karma

Haha not really, mostly it's Deliverance references

sharkteef1 karma

What pfd do you recommend? I want a manual but the auto seems cheaper

CheeksOC11 karma

I wear a Stohlquist Descent Rescue PFD. If you are doing any type of whitewater you should wear a vest that floats, you shouldn't have to pull anything or do anything because sometimes you can't, or maybe you hit a rock and are unconscious. If you get swiftwater rescue training, a rescue PFD is a great asset. If you don't have training, it will just get in the way so a standard PFD would be fine

HospitalBar1 karma


CheeksOC12 karma

It depends on the situation. The goal is to get out of the water as quickly as possible as safely as possible. If the water is shallow, I will actually put my feet down and stand up so that I can get to shore. If the riverbed is dangerous I won't stand up but I'll Mark Spitz my ass to shore as quickly as possible. If there are lots of sieves or undercut rocks, I will ride it out. The only way to get good at swimming whitewater is through experience. Lots of times during the summer I'll swim a rapid on purpose (without a boat) to get more experience so that when I swim unintentionally I know what I'm doing.

The reason raft companies tell you not to stand up is because they have safety set and will work to get you back in the boat without you having to risk entrapment. In solo boating, you don't have a group of people to pull you back in the boat.

TL;DR It depends, get out of the water quickly, but do it safely

columbus_uncle1 karma

I just paddled an Octane 92with a friend recently, so I have gained even more respect for you canoe guys! Have you ever paddled tandem? Do you have any tips for a newcomer?

CheeksOC12 karma

I love paddling tandem, it's awesome to have that connection with another paddler and work together to accomplish a challenge. Love the OCtane 92 because its such a modern creeking OC2

My advice would be to have fun and keep it safe in the beginning. Try to learn how to roll quickly because it will give you confidence to step up your game, but don't let the lack of a roll hold you back from having fun on Class III. Learn to self rescue so that you can recover quickly from a swim. But most importantly have fun

columbus_uncle1 karma

Thanks man! Yea it was a cool class III run and we managed to run a few of the rapids backwards due to my overzealous draw stroke....we swam once but it was a lot of fun.

Do you by chance know Mark Z? He captained a raft down the Upper Gauley and flipped us off of pillow....epic

CheeksOC12 karma

Mark Z is a really good boater. Singlehandedly the most amazing open boater I've ever seen. Got his autograph at Gauley Fest once, that was pretty rad

columbus_uncle1 karma

Yea, he's redonk for sure. He's a really cool dude too. Here's the vid of pillow carnage if you're interested. http://vimeo.com/50680445

CheeksOC11 karma

I make a cameo in his Beaver Fest video where I piton going over a waterfall and procede to go over the handlebars. What can I say, the dude loves carnage

P00P_Dollar1 karma

Shit, now all I want to do is go to Costa Rica..

CheeksOC11 karma

:) You should, it's awesome!

tgraefj1 karma

Do you have a family that constantly worries about you? If so, how do you take that into account when attempting dangerous falls?

CheeksOC11 karma

Yes I do. My parents watched a video of me running the waterfall in the picture and asked me not to show them anymore video. But they watch the videos I make because, to make them, I have to have survived, so they can tolerate that. But they hate thinking about it and I do try to keep their feelings in mind when showing them things or telling them about paddling, especially accidents and fatalities.

In terms of how it affects me on the river, the short answer is that it does not. I don't think about my family because I can't think about my family, or anything else other than executing the line. Staying alive for my family is important, but when I look at a rapid, I only ask two things. How hard will this be to execute and what are the consequences if I don't? If I think aout anything else, I'm not going to have my mind in the game.

Paddling is as much if not more mental than physical. I need to visualize myself succeeding. I need to know I'm going to stomp the line. If I let other distractions get in the way, that would be too dangerous and I can't lose focus

TL;DR. Yes they do, but its too dangerous to let that distract me whilst paddling

8lexb251 karma

What's the closest you've ever come to dying, did it make you rethink your job

CheeksOC11 karma

Closest would be getting pinned under a raft, and long swim on the Cheoah. Both were scary but not what I'd consider truly near-death. They did make me think differently but the most shook up I've been was following a fatality I was involved with on the river, that had me thinking for a while. In te end, the very real consequences of this sport is a major reason I am so passionate about. The only rules that apply are the laws of physics and life and death, so it's a very visceral, deep experience

simmonsg1 karma

Do you recommend the GoPro?

CheeksOC11 karma

I have the Hero2 and love it, it's a great camera that gets unique shots that normal cameras wouldn't get. I have friends with the Hero3 and the response has been pretty dismal. It seems like the Hero2 is still the go to until they get the firmware issues sorted with the Hero 3

coughcough1 karma

When looking for new locations, do you actively chase waterfalls? It would seem to me the better way would be to stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to. I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all, but I think you're moving too fast.

CheeksOC12 karma

I seen a rainbow today

thepaddledude1 karma

Fellow boater here! I'm a kayaker, though.

1) What would you say drew you to open canoeing as opposed to closed canoeing or kayaking? 2) What do you think is the biggest difference between your paddling as an OC-1er and other people's paddling closed boats? 3) What's your absolute favorite run you've ever been on?

CheeksOC12 karma

1) Initially because it was what I was familiar with, now it's the challenge of OC1ing well (i.e. dry) 2) I'm way more cognizant of how "wet" a line is because why would you possibly care if your bow goes under water for a second in a kayak. It totally changes how you look at a rapid. 3) Grand Canyon, Big Creek, NC, Top Yough, MD are some of my favorites. Absolute favorite is Grand Canyon but that feels almost like cheating

Underpantz_Ninja1 karma

Which Pacific Northwest Dam are you salivating for to be removed so it can be runnable by kayak?

Or, conversely, which hydropower project is still covering the choicest water?

CheeksOC12 karma

I'd really like to see what's under Tugalo Lake (Chattooga/Tallulah dam. Tallulah Gorge doesn't end at Powerhouse...

Any dam on the Columbia River would be cool, I can't imagine what the rapids on a river that big would look like

i_eat_catnip1 karma

I love canoes. Canoe > Kayak

That said, what's your favourite canoe? Do you ever pull up next to a kayaker, stand up and pee just to prove how restrictive kayaks are? Bent shaft or straight? What about your paddle? Ever play gunnel wars, where you and a buddy stand on the gunnels and shake the boat, last man standing wins? Would you win? Ever paddle so far from shore you couldn't see it any more? Is that or would that be scarier than going down a waterfall? What do you think about people with square-backed canoes with motors on them? Just awful, amirite?

CheeksOC12 karma

Hahaha yes to most of those. Favorite canoe is the Curtis Companion. Favorite whitewater canoe is the Blackfly Option

Unless the water is super choppy, waterfalls are scary. Straight shaft all the way

i_eat_catnip1 karma

Awesome. That Curtis looks pretty sweet. I'm a flatwater paddler for now, in a Clipper Solitude. I hope to borrow or buy a river-able boat this summer, my 6-year old boy loves canoeing too and it's time to add some excitement to our days out. If he turns out like you I'll be thrilled as hell. Cheers!

CheeksOC12 karma

That's awesome! Start em young!

fu11h4mm3r1 karma

Would you like a wingman?

CheeksOC11 karma

You can be my wingman anytime

somewhereonariver1 karma

How/where did you get your river ratting started?

CheeksOC12 karma

When I was 1 or 2 with my dad, flatwater paddling on the Bantam River in CT.

Serious river chasing began about three years ago on the Lower Yough in PA

James_Versus1 karma

Where were your favorite places to go whitewater rafting? What exactly do you do on a daily basis? What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?

CheeksOC12 karma

Taking a group of overweight, out of shape people and getting them down the river safely.

Favorite place to paddle, Grand Canyon, Smokey Mountains.

I would wake up, get boats ready to paddle, get lunch, paddle boats, make lunch, paddle more, put boats away, put lunch away

iuseleinterwebz1 karma

What is the greatest injury you have sustained while canoeing in general (if any)?

CheeksOC12 karma

Deep rotator cuff contusion knocked me out for a month. Concussion slamming my head into a rock on the Beaver River. Flipped and ran a drop upside down and hit the back of my head so hard I couldn't turn my neck for three days

afili1 karma

My mother is going whitewater rafting for the first time this year. Do you have any tips for her first time?

CheeksOC12 karma

Listen to the guide, when he says something he generally means it. If you paddle you will be more stable and less likely to fall out of the boat. Have fun!

TheWingnutSquid1 karma

Do most waterfalls have rocky bottoms or are the majority of them safe to jump off of? Well maybe not safe per say but, can I jump off one and not worry about the depth of the water?

CheeksOC11 karma

It really depends. Some are, some aren't. Most have spots that are okay and spots where you could get seriously injured or die, and the only way to discern is through experience. I couldn't recommend any to jump into not knowing your skills, swimming ability, etc.

Sliderisk1 karma

Hey Cheeks, I have been prepping to run the Ohiopyle falls this year. Do you have any tips to get over the butterflys? I am an experienced kayaker but Ohiopyle falls will be the biggest run I've ever done. I know people who have swam these falls and been fine but it's still nerve racking.

CheeksOC11 karma

Haha those butterflies never really go away, it just takes bigger and bigger drops to bring them out.

Ohiopyle Falls may be the safest 16 foot waterfall to pop the cherry on, but it doesn't make it the easiest. Looking at the lead in from where you scout on RR, you want to go down the slide/tounge thing and hit the curling wave about a boat length right of the rodeo hole. Hit it with slight right hand angle and power through it and this will bust you over it right onto the boof flake. That said I've fucked it up plenty of times myself and it always ends up okay. The worst thing that could happen is a swim where you go deep. If you go deep expect to be under water for 5-10 seconds, so take a deep breath, ball up, and look towards the light to see when you flush.

Good luck, Ohiopyle is awesome, super fun drop to learn how to boof on

Sliderisk1 karma

Excellent, great advice. Will you be at the falls race this year?

CheeksOC11 karma

Unfortunantly there won't be a falls race this year due to construction in the parking lot, but the Falls will be legal to run all summer whenever the LY drops below 1.8 so get it then!

And to replace falls race weekend, come up to Gatineau Fest in Maniwiki, Quebec. One of my favorite festivals

schadly1 karma

Have you ever gone down the Milner Mile?

CheeksOC11 karma

No I haven't been to Idaho yet. Biggest water I've done was the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

Milner is the real deal though, that's some brown shit. That would be exceedingly difficult for an open canoe and I cannot honestly think of any open boater currently up for that run. But there are a few who, if they had a few weeks in Idaho to work up to it, would probably crush it

Phtes1 karma

Hey there, I often do rafting and am looking to get into more canoeing / kayaking, you seem to lean more towards canoeing however do you have any tips or info for someone looking to kayake?

Also that video was awesome, made me want to call up my friends and head for a river haha.

CheeksOC11 karma

Drop the skirt and the training blade!

Just kidding, lots of friends kayak and I would kayak if I couldn't canoe. Get lessons, get a boat, and get out there!

And learn how to self rescue, its important to kayakers too

ShangriR1 karma

are you hiring?

CheeksOC11 karma

haha I'm barely getting by myself, so probably not

CrappyCrowbar1 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA!

Have you ever had a moment when when you thoroughly believe your life is on the line? A near death experience of some sort that may have changed your view on your job? If so, please share with us!

CheeksOC16 karma

Yeah I've had a few moments where I said, wow, that was sketchy. I swam underneath a pinned raft on a very easy Class III rapid when I was a guide. I had gotten out to "unfuck" the raft and slipped, and went underneath it. I had to force my way through to the other side and was almost ready to try and cut my way through the floor when I popped out. That was the scariest moment that has happened to me.

But what really changed me was watching someone die on the river this year. It was beyond awful and it made me reevaluate why I was doing what I was doing. I paddled the next day because I needed to force myself to remember that the danger, the reality, is why I do what I do. But it has made me a little more cautious as well.

CrappyCrowbar1 karma

Wow, you must have done some thinking after both those experiences, especially after witnessing a death during your job.

As long as you're safe and keep doing what has to be done, I commend you for sharing your experiences with us with this AMA. :)

CheeksOC13 karma

Yeah the death will stay with me for a long time, probably forever. What sucked was that it was a very innocuous rapid with one of the strongest groups of paddlers I've ever been a part of and it still happened.

You can love the river but the river will never love you back

CheeksOC12 karma

Oh and happy Cakeday!

Mikesize1 karma

Have you gotten laid, if so any good stories?

CheeksOC13 karma

Haha I need a throwaway account for that...


How is canoeing different from kayaking?

CheeksOC12 karma

Main difference. Canoes are open on top and are paddled from a kneeling position with a single bladed paddle. Kayaks are closed by a skirt, and are paddled from the sitting position with a double bladed paddle.

Kayaking is more popular at the moment because it is easier to break into paddling, and paddle harder rapids quicker in a kayak. But this has led to a lot of inexperience kayakers (and some canoeists) stepping it up too quickly and getting themselves in trouble

drewzybby1 karma

Canoeing would be a hobby for me and most people. Do you enjoy canoeing in your leisure time or does it just feel like work?

CheeksOC11 karma

It's my passion and I enjoy it very much. That said it did get frustrating this year when I was canoeing all the time (about 200 days, and that was with two months of no paddling whatsoever)

I scaled back on the sales/team athlete side of my work because it was becoming too frustrating. And I try to take breaks to make myself remember why I loved it

ykgday1 karma

When you are attempting a new waterfall, what types of things do you take into account when scouting the water? How are you able to tell it is safe (although that may be relative haha) to paddle off etc...

CheeksOC11 karma

The biggest thing you look at is the landing zone. Are there rocks in it, is it shallow, how aerated is the water? You want a sof landing to reduce the stress on your back. Then you look at the lip of the drop and see how hard it is to get to where you want to be on the lip, and does the lip roll gradually or go immediately to verticle

gr33nss0 karma


CheeksOC13 karma

Because it is there