The River Runner Documentary Review

The River Runner is a breathtaking and inspirational river run documentary that touches on matters of friendship, grief, ambition, persistence, and growth. It tells the story of Scott Lindgren, a legendary kayaking pioneer and filmmaker, and his emotional journey into, out of, and back into the beautiful world of kayaking.

The River Runner in Detail

The River Runner begins by portraying Scott Lindgren’s childhood, who grew up in a rough area in San Bernardino. His first few years in that city shaped parts of his persistent and straightforward character, often getting into physical altercations and receiving suspension orders.

After moving to Sacramento Valley, Scott began his journey into kayaking through exposure to river rafting. However, since rafting is like driving a bus and “kayaking is like driving a sports car”, Scott quickly shifted his interests toward kayaking.

The beginning does an excellent job of hooking the audience, showing the initial experiences that Scott went through to shape his future.

Learning to Love the Sport

Beginner kayaking normally involves learning the ins and outs of the sport, and after struggling to grasp it initially, Scott begins to learn how to ride the river rapids on a kayak. Through the documentary, we know that in 1990, Scott started his role as a river guide and developed more passion for kayaking.

Since kayaking can help you “navigate down a river unlike any other watercraft”, Scott appeared to fall in love with the sport. He decided to continue kayaking rather than heading to college, traveling to North Fork, Idaho, where he met his long-term friend Charlie Munsey.

In this stage, the clips and interview answers in the documentary show Scott starting to realize his passion for the sport. The interviews were spaced well, and the confidence exhibited by the actors in their speeches helped to engage the audience better.

Realizing His Dream 

Afterward, the documentary shows his trip to Nepal at 20 years old. It was then that he realized that many people practice kayaking worldwide. As young adults who want to experience things no one has done previously, Scott and Charlie began to pay close attention to Mount Kailash and its raging rivers.

They began to hear of the sacred mountain Kailash and its four rivers: west flows the Sutlej river, north the Indus river, east flows Tsangpo river, and south flows the Karnali river. At this point, Scott’s dream took shape to run the four rivers.

Creating History With Driftwood Productions

The audience then sees Scott head back from Nepal and meet a group of like-minded kayakers. The “eclectic group of kids” began forming a team, each member having a solid kayaking foundation with room for improvement.

Eventually, we see the team create Driftwood Productions, a production company that was one of the first of its kind in the kayaking industry. The short films they produced were “mind-blowing to the white-water world”.

The documentary does excellent work in helping to show both the team’s inexperience and passion. The vibrant colors and music of the video also show their excitement at achieving some form of success in filmmaking.

A Turn for the Worst

The story then progresses to the team’s journey into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, where a member, unfortunately, passed away. Scott then starts to become much “edgier”, according to one team member.

The group began to ostracize members who showed even an ounce of weakness. They, along with Scott, became hard on other people, and no one appeared to know how to cope. The general idea in the team was, “‘if you’re falling apart, then get out”.

Running the First Two Mount Kailash Rivers

To re-inspire the group members, they started to rekindle their passion for kayaking by surfing the first of the four rivers, the Karnali. The documentary captured the feeling of nervousness when the team was facing difficulty in the river rapids.

The only way out was a long, downstream trip when they got on the rapids. That was the last time that Charlie ever paddled with Scott. We saw, through the video, the panic and worry that Charlie let show, grabbing the audience’s attention and showing just how dangerous the journey would be from then on.

Next, Scott rode the Sutlej river, surrounded by his team and a relatively large audience of people. At this point, we can see that Scott’s endeavors were getting a lot of attention, building up to the height of his fame when he rode the rapids of the Yarlung Tsangpo river.

Yarlung Tsangpo River and Fame

The documentary shows that the ride for the Yarlung Tsangpo river was on another level, and we can see that Scott even called a full-court press. For the Yarlung Tsangpo river, we see a 12,000-foot descent, dropping off the Tibetan plateau at an astronomical speed. 

After riding the Yarlung Tsangpo river, Scott rose to fame. At this point, everything was about production, movies, working with large sponsors, and money. We see Scott’s love of kayaking take a back seat in the face of such fame.

Murchison Falls

The next part of the documentary then shows Scott’s trip to Murchison Falls, a vast white-water river with some of the highest concentrations of crocodiles and hippos worldwide. 

At this point, Scott begins feeling physically weak and loses spatial awareness when flipping over on the kayak. Scott then decided to walk away, planning a short break for three months. The three months then took Scott out of the kayaking community for the next eight years. 

From the sound effects, interview, and other elements, we see the hurt this decision caused Scott. It left a vast hole in his heart since it became unlikely that he would be able to ride the last part of his dream, riding the Indus river.

Tumor, Surgery, and Getting Back Into Kayaking

The documentary then explains his tumor, the surgery process, and receiving a DUI. The scenes were incredibly emotion-evoking, and we see the sadness and downheartedness displayed by both Scott and his loved ones.

Eventually, Scott began to take up kayaking again, though the clips seemed like a humbling experience. In contrast to the clear display of skill in the earlier sections, we see the lack of practice and hesitation in how Scott rode the rapids in the North Fork of the Payette in this section.

Friendship and Character

Scott then meets a kayaker called Aniol Serrasolses, one of the best kayakers in the world. Eventually, Aniol invites Scott to head to Indus to ride with a team of kayakers. They became great friends, and Scott learns what it meant to be the “weakest link” in the group yet not be ostracized.

In the words of Scott himself, “I spent the better part of my kayaking career ostracizing any form of weakness, and here I was by far the weakest link, and my friends in the kayaking community didn’t ostracize me”. The clips and cinematography show the audience his growth and deep gratitude for his new friends.

The Final River

Scott eventually runs the final river amid worry about his tumor. Although he should have been in appointments the whole time, he decided to ignore his medical issues to see his dream to the end.

After successfully riding the river, the documentary shows Scott returning to check the tumor growth. With Scott seeing no change in the tumor size, the audience can see his relief. We witness the end of an era and the subsequent beginning of Scott’s journey into more kayaking.

Documentary Analysis


The River Runner features incredible cinematography, combining great lighting, composition, and other elements to create a beautiful story. Throughout the documentary, you can see the vibrant colors of nature and feel the danger that Scott and the rafters face in the rivers.

Much like in the GoPro Kayaking with Scott video below, through the documentary, we see an action-packed river riding across strong currents in the face of enormous obstacles like rocks and rock walls. The documentary perfectly portrays the difficulty of kayaking in such harsh conditions with the sharp angles and bright lighting.


The music throughout the documentary helped intensify the excitement and paint a more colorful picture of Scott’s journey. The intense music the audience can hear when the documentary shows kayakers riding down tall rapids makes it even more electrifying to watch.

There were sections of soft, intense, sad, and happy music that brought all of the experiences the audience saw on the screen to life. The background music during the interviews also helped intensify their words and paint a picture of what they were telling.

Expectations vs. Reality

Regarding our expectations, based on the title alone, it didn’t seem like an impressive film. The title “The River Runner” doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the film’s contents and the emotional rollercoaster it brings the audience to experience. 

After watching the movie, we were pleasantly surprised by the depth it went into and were impressed by the smooth and direct storytelling. Furthermore, although we realized kayaking was a fun sport, the dramatic and hair-raising process of kayakers riding the four rivers was highly stimulating.


To wrap things up, The River Runner is a fantastic documentary portraying the complex journey of one of the most well-known kayakers in history. If you have some time to spare, consider giving it a go and watchThe River Runner yourself.