Here’s another reason to book one of our great Amazon Tours — the Great River Amazon Raft Race! Read all about the race in this interview with expert paddler West Hansen, who plans to paddle the Amazon River – alone.
In celebration of the Great River Amazon Raft Race that’s happening down in Iquitos as we speak, we’d like to take a closer look at one ambitious paddler in particular, West Hansen, who was part of the winning team in the Amazon Raft Race 2008, and is now planning to head back into the Amazon for a somewhat unusual Amazon tour: this time for a record-breaking source-to-sea solo paddling expedition.
A native Texan, paddler West Hansen has been paddling competitively since college, and now brings 20+ years of experience to his current endeavor: to be the first person to solo paddle the entire 4,225 miles of the Amazon River, from source to sea, in record time.
In 2008, Hansen and 3 of his buddies flew down to Peru to participate in the Great River Amazon Raft Race, a rafting race that has gained in popularity with both local and international teams over the past few years. Hansen’s team, Team Easy Living, ended up winning the first place prize for the race, as well as obliterating the competition and setting speed records that still stand.
Read our exclusive interview with West Hansen about how he is preparing to return to Peru for his epic solo expedition:
West Hansen: I’m planning to launch the expedition in August 2012, though I may go a bit sooner if I get some financial backers.
South America Travel News: Is it true that no other teams had ever made a long skinny raft in the Amazon race before you guys made the Blue Dolphin [the name of their raft]?
West Hansen: I was asked to be on Team Easy Living by my friends, David Kelly and Carter Johnson. I didn’t know Mike Scales beforehand, but we all melded very well and made a great team. I didn’t know much about the [Great River Amazon Raft Race], even up to the days leading up to the race. David had done all the planning and leg work. I was busy running a business and racing, so didn’t have much time to focus on the race until we were in the air on the way to Peru. I knew we’d have to build our own raft and I was a carpenter, so that was intriguing. The design of the raft was pretty much a given, what with all four of us being experienced marathon and ultra-marathon canoe and kayak racers. It just made sense. We always sit in a row in our racing boats, so we just decided to replicate it as much as we could. There really wasn’t much thought put into any other option.
We heard that the locals painted their rafts to slow down the sponging, soaking effect the water had on the soft balsa logs, so we bought some sky blue paint in Iquitos and slapped it on the raft after we built it. I liked the blue, as it was similar to the dolphins. Apparently, we were the first to make a skinny raft in the race. While we were building it, the local heroes came by often, then just stood, laughed and shook their heads at our efforts. They wouldn’t even talk to us when we tried to talk to them, even though half our group spoke fluent Spanish. I think we were seen as big stupid clowns.
That changed the next day, when two of the lead teams dropped out after we beat the field by 8 minutes. No more laughing.
South America Travel News: Did you see many river dolphins while you were on the Amazon?
West Hansen: [The trip in 2008] was the first time I ever laid eyes on the Amazon and I was instantly amazed and driven to it. We toured the jungle with a guide and jumped into the Amazon to swim around with some dolphins while motoring around on one of those wooden motor boats. The dolphins were really cool, though more bashful than their saltwater cousins. This was all the week before the race.
South America Travel News: When you went to the Amazon to participate in the Great River Amazon Raft Race in 2008, did you have any intentions of going solo in the future, or did that thought come later?
West Hansen: Upon returning to the states [after the 2008 race], I had a day to just mellow out in San Francisco before returning home to Austin. At David’s house, he lent me a tattered copy of Running the Amazon by Joe Kane. After reading the book, I knew I’d be back to the Amazon. I figured there’s not a whole lot in this life that I’m very good at doing. But, one thing I can do is paddle non-stop for-freaking-ever. I started doing a bit of research and found that the first guy to paddle the Amazon was an acquaintance of my uncle, so we ended up talking for quite awhile. Then it all got under my skin and I started planning. I’m still amazed that it took until 1985 for the first team to successful navigate the entire Amazon river. Only three expeditions have done so, thus far, and I’ve been in contact with all of them.
Hansen runs a site called The Amazon Express, which details his goals and plans for the Amazon expedition. Hansen is currently looking for sponsors for him and his crew to make the trip a success.
He plans on hiking the first 43 miles from Nevada Mismo to Apacheta Creek to launch the kayaks. Along the way, he’ll encounter Class III-V rapids, especially in the Black Canyon region between Pilpinto and the Cunyac Bridge, as well as the Acobamba Abyss between the Cunyac Bridge and San Francisco.
Interested in heading down the Amazon River? Check out our Amazon River Cruise?
You may also want to read our blog post, Amazon River Cruises to Peru, Brazil, Bolivia & Ecuador.