|Who Is Tao Berman?
by Jeffrey Moag
Tao Berman owns the world record for paddling over a
30-meter waterfall last August in Canada, but his newfound
celebrity hasn't diminished his appetite for seemingly
impossible first descents. The 21-year-old American
has made more than 40 first descents, some of which
no one else has dared attempt.
"I like to look at drops with an obvious feature
that makes it look unrunnable. And when I see that I
like to think, 'Okay, how can I make this runnable,'"
Berman says. One such drop is Log Choke Falls, named
for an enormous log that blocks the 10-meter drop. Berman
turned this intimidating feature to his advantage, riding
it over the hairiest part of the drop like a skateboarder
sliding on a handrail. "I come through the entrance,
boofed the first drop and landed with the log right
under my butt. It's a big, round log and I slid down
it sideways and fell into the pool down below,"
he says. Berman is the only boater to attempt this drop
on the Top Tye Creek in Washington State, and he's done
it twice. Berman missed the log slide move in his second
attempt, flipping backwards onto a shelf cluttered with
smaller logs. To everyone's surprise but Berman's, he
escaped unscathed. "I'd seen that drop at low water
and knew the logs were all smooth and polished. There
was nothing to get hung up in," Berman explains.
Upper Johnstone Falls, the 30-meter behemoth where
Berman shattered the world waterfall record, would not
forgive even a small error. The waterfall cuts through
a gap in the rock barely 3 meters wide, and a nasty
flake guards the right side of the waterfall.
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"It was a very narrow slot. I knew
I had to be real close to the left wall and I knew that
there was a possibility that I could touch it,"
says Berman, who did graze the wall lightly before striking
the water at nearly 100 kilometers per hour. The impact
was so powerful it snapped Berman's paddle in half.
Berman also has the only two descents of a 65-meter
slide on Washington State's Snoqualamie river that he's
christened "My Little Helper." The drop features
two long slides interrupted by a small, shallow pool.
"It's incredibly difficult because you're going
so fast when you hit this little pool that's full of
bedrock," Berman says. "And then you're going
down this 120 foot (39-meter) slide and you need to
be working right to get away from this big piton flake
rock." In his first descent, Berman pitoned into
the tiny pool, blowing out his spray skirt. "As
I came out of this pool, I'm putting my skirt back on
one side of my boat. I got it on right as I started
to drop over this huge slide, so it was a pretty neat
drop, a really neat drop," Berman says.
Berman will make his first visit to Europe this spring
to compete on the rodeo circuit. Beyond that, he's playing
his cards close to the vest. "I have a bunch of
future plans that I'm sure a lot of people would want
to know about. Let's just say that my eyes are always
open. I'm always looking."
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