Chasing Niagara Movie Review

Plunge into the wide world of extreme whitewater kayaking through this in-depth Chasing Niagara movie review. Chasing Niagara is a documentary that shows the three-year journey of Rafa Ortiz and his dedicated team of professional kayakers as he pursues his dream of kayaking Niagara falls.

Chasing Niagara From Start to Finish

The Treachery of Nature

Chasing Niagara begins with a dramatic snippet of the journey to come. It introduces a team of four kayakers heading straight to the waterfalls of the Agua Azul: Rafa Ortiz, Evan Garcia, Rush Sturges, and Gerd Serrasolses. It starts by depicting the calm, beautiful, sky-blue water, followed by a fast-moving waterfall, showing nature’s tranquility yet treachery. 

The team then got to the first fall, commenting on their nervousness and how they were not truly ready to face it. We see Gerd Serrasolses going down, turning over several times amongst the rapids, and vanishing in the water. Then, it was a race for the other team members to save him. 

It ends with a statement stating that Gerd was gone, an unexpected and heart-wrenching conclusion right at the beginning. While the audience has not had a chance to form any opinions or attachments yet to the key players, such a dramatic first scene created a sorrowful atmosphere that proved difficult for the audience to recover from quickly.

The addition of sweeping music and choir-like singing in the background made the effects of seeing the demise of someone real much stronger. While it evoked strong emotions right from the get-go, it became much more challenging to focus on the following scenes since it felt like we had already seen the ending.

Brief History of Falls in Niagara

In stark contrast, the next scene was a sort-of history lesson. The scene changed to an old-world film style with upbeat music and a black and white video. The narrator began by describing Niagara falls and how it attracted so many people through time.

Going from the intense scene at the beginning to a more upbeat, information-based one was startling. The music also changed from dreary and sweeping to lively rather suddenly, which, as an audience member, was challenging to adjust to at first. In general, rather than a natural and smooth progression from one scene to another, it seemed like an interruption.

However, while the transition was less than perfect, it still helped to set the scene and give the audience the necessary information about the danger of Niagara falls. 

A New Dream

We then see Rafa talking about how he wants to make history by kayaking over Niagara falls. He states that some people shared his vision, but more people believed him crazy. Rafa describes how such a goal to him was a logical progression of the sport, and through his words, we can truly see his passion for whitewater kayaking.

In this scene, the documentary does an excellent job of portraying Rafa’s passion for kayaking down Niagara Falls. At this stage, the audience sees his determination clearly since Rafa remains unmoved despite danger, pushback, and uncertainty.

The Dream Team Led By Rafa Ortiz

The next scene depicts how kayaking became a vessel to explore the world for Rafa. The sport shaped how he turned out and gave him the idea to challenge Niagara. The challenge requires the expertise of some of the world’s top and most well-rounded kayakers. In this scene, we meet Rush, Rafa’s first team member and master kayaker.

We see snippets of the two kayaking whitewater together, developing a close friendship and bond. We also see how they analyze the dynamics of each fall through thorough research and looking at the waterfall from every possible angle—seeing Rafa and Rush riding down a steep waterfall while employing expert techniques made for an enjoyable and thrilling scene.

Big Banana Falls and More Team Members

We then see Rafa going through an interview about his success at riding Big Banana Falls. Evan also makes out that Rafa is more of a self-taught kayaker, which helps the audience to feel just how hard he works and gain confidence that Rafa would successfully achieve his dream.

Intense motion pictures of Rafa going down harsh waterfalls further cements the audience’s confidence in his abilities. With the help of upbeat Spanish music playing in the background, we also feel excitement and anticipation for the following scenes.

The documentary then introduces more of Rafa’s team members, describing how Evan is famous for his smooth kayaking style and efficiency and how Rush is a creative innovator that has been pioneering tricks for years.  The energetic and subtly empowering soundtrack in the background made watching the introductions more bewitching. 

It gave the audience faith in the project’s success since so many legends in the kayaking world are working with Rafa to practice going down the 65-foot drop in Tomata falls and developing solid techniques to protect his spine and muscles used when kayaking.

A Second Opinion from a World Record Holder

Rafa then seeks the advice of world record holder Tyler Bradt, who, at the time, was famous for riding down the tallest waterfall ever ridden. Although Tyler supported Rafa’s goals, we learn how many hoops they would have to jump to ride Niagara Falls due to the illegality of the situation.

Accompanied by upbeat music, we see the team scouting out Niagara from multiple angles. We see them making so much effort in researching the falls, getting on a helicopter to view from above, and jumping the fence near the waterfall’s base. With so much effort put into the research process, we can witness first-hand the team’s reliability and drive.

Travel and Motivation

We are met with training in the 189-foot Palouse falls. It shows the team going on intense meetings and training sessions. When Rafa is on top of the falls but out of view, the audience hears suspenseful music, growing stronger. As soon as he came out, many felt genuine relief.

However, it was a humbling experience for Rafa and the team. The strong and harsh water ripped him from his kayak, and it was then that they mentioned that a similar outcome in Niagara Falls could result in a fatality.

Failures in The Journey

The team heads to Agua Azul, which has vertical waterfalls similar to Niagara. We see a montage of them going down the falls, one of the most intense being the 60-foot steep drop. We hear somber music as Rafa does not complete his first run, hikes back up the mountain, and attempts the challenging drop a second time. 

At this point, the audience can feel frustration building up, as again, a similar situation in the 80-foot drop in Rio Santo Domingo could lead to worst consequences. Seeing so many failures gave the audience less confidence in Rafa’s ability to complete the mission. Since we were more familiar with the team, it started to evoke feelings of worry. 

Riding The Rio Santo Domingo

We next see the team’s preparation for setting a record in Rio Santo Domingo. The documentary then introduces Gerd, which brings back feelings of distress from seeing his fall in the beginning.

However, when the audience then sees the success of Evan, Rush, and Rafa in going down steep waterfalls, it inspires confidence and excitement until we see the team exhausted and returning to the Agua Azul. Only Rafa, Evan, Rush, and Gerd were up for the next challenge. 

Evan and Rush go down the next waterfall, but the audience is at the edge of their seats in anticipation of Gerd’s attempt. We see footage of him unconscious and his teammates attempting to pull him out of the water.  Suddenly, the audience hears news of his survival.

112 Days Before Descending

After witnessing Gerd’s survival and feeling an immense sense of relief, the audience sees Rafa heading to the Pacific Northwest to meet up with Rush and Evan after separation. We see them enjoying the sport and riding for fun. It featured upbeat music, happy songs, and exciting slow-motion river drops. 

Unfortunately, many audience members have still not recovered from the twist of Gerd’s survival. While it was relieving to know that a real person we’ve gotten to know behind the screen was safe, it was still too much of a twist and made it difficult to focus on the happier scenes, despite the excellent cinematography.

Scouting the Falls and One Last Test

The audience then watches as the team goes through their final test before Niagara, riding the Sahalie falls. Sahalie Falls replicates many of Niagara’s dangers, with logs, incredibly harsh conditions, and harsher rapids than previous waterfalls. 

Sahalie falls also has only a small pool at the bottom, and none of the team members wanted to run it, implying the immense danger that Rafa would face. The feeling of danger increases tenfold when we see Rafa going down the falls, turning over, and the team running to find him. Rafa nearly drowning showed just how much riskier it would be in Niagara.

Since it was so close to the time when Rafa would run Niagara, such a failure strongly impacted the audience. The confidence they had in Rafa’s success plummeted massively in an instant. It was looking bleaker by the minute.

Final Preparation

For the team, the main concern with the goal being so close is the depth of the pool in Niagara. To test, the team needed to send an empty kayak down the falls. Bear in mind that what they were doing was illegal and could alert the authorities, and it did.

Sending an empty kayak down led to multiple news reports, and Rafa understood how much legal danger there would be should he attempt to go ahead with his dream. His team would at least be subject to a $10,000 fine and, at worst, convicted of intentional manslaughter if he were to perish.

That didn’t deter Rafa. He appeared to be both physically and mentally prepared. With the undercover safety team in place, and cameras set up across the area, Rafa was ready. There was a strong sense of anticipation, leaning towards the edge of their seats to watch Rafa’s attempt.


Uncertainty and anticipation would then turn into disappointment and relief when Rafa called it off at the last minute. It felt a little anticlimactic towards the end, though on the other hand, after witnessing Rafa’s journey, it was a relief knowing that he and his team would be safe.

It ends with Rafa’s commentary about his 3-year journey chasing Niagara, how he accomplished many things and developed close friendships. Ultimately, he learned how precious life is and what it means to be alive.

With the ending, the audience can now relax, knowing that the players they became attached to no longer had to face any potential consequences of riding such a steep and dangerous waterfall. While it was disappointing that Rafa could not achieve his dream, it was still a good documentary with a clear, logical progression.

Chasing Niagara Analysis: Movie Mechanics


From what we see in the action scenes in Chasing Niagara, the world of extreme whitewater kayaking is vibrant, colorful, and adrenaline-pumping. Throughout the documentary, the audience can see that the rapids were dangerous beyond belief, with many risks and unknowns, regardless of how diligently you plan. 

Each frame in the documentary evoked a strong sense of fear and adventure, like in the Chasing Niagara bonus scenes. Moreover, there were several parts of the movie where the audience could see the action in slow motion, watching as Rafa and the other kayakers dropped from great heights and faced the elements.

The slow-motion scenes enabled the audience to see the intensity of the waves and waterfalls. It helped to draw out the emotion at that moment and portrayed how an instant, three-second vertical drop on a kayak can feel much longer.

Overall, the cinematography was fantastic. Chasing Niagara drew in the audience from the start and told Rafa’s story interestingly and engagingly. Even though the abrupt ending may have caused some audience members to feel disappointed after all of the anticipation, it was still a thought-provoking and emotion-inducing documentary.


Chasing Niagara utilized an extensive selection of sounds and music that helped to enhance and intensify what was on the screen. There were times when the audience heard suspenseful music, happy music, remorseful music, and more.

The soundtracks were especially adept at portraying excitement and anticipation, particularly during scenes when Rafa and his team were riding waterfalls for the first time. In moments where Rafa and the others went underwater, and the audience couldn’t tell whether they were safe, the sweeping music made it seem even more dramatic.

Expectations vs. Reality

Before watching Chasing Niagara, I expected it to show incredible action scenes of the participants kayaking at high levels and risks. While that was the case, I never expected to go on such an inspirational journey. The unexpected twists made it much more absorbing than I initially anticipated.

Chasing Niagara Review in a nutshell

Watching the Chasing Niagara documentary was an emotional rollercoaster, with unexpected twists and turns from beginning to end. While the abrupt ending was slightly anticlimactic, it was still enjoyable overall. If you are interested in whitewater kayaking and want to see how the world’s top players perform, consider watching the Chasing Niagara documentary.