Whitewater SUP Evangelist Spencer Lacy Spreads the Gospel in Chile
Words by Eugene Buchanan
Photos by Lance Ostrom
The world of whitewater standup made a big leap to Chile this winter, with Coloradoan SUP specialist Spencer Lacy receiving a standing ovation for his efforts.
In a three-and-a-half-week river rampage, Ambassador Lacy, with gullible, I'll-follow-you-anywhere cohort Lance Ostrom, exposed whitewater SUP to the historically kayak-crazed country for the first time ever, notching five first SUP descents of different rivers—all featuring serious potential consequences.
"I'd heard about how great the whitewater paddling is there forever," says Lacy, a longtime whitewater kayaker and regular podium finisher in U.S. river SUP events. "So SUPing there seemed natural. It's pretty unheard of there, and I love showing people the sport."
Still, they didn't exactly get a welcome mat. "Some people had heard of it and were intrigued, but others were completely baffled and thought we were going to die," admits Ostrom, whose baptism by fire training involved standup paddling the Grand Canyon with Lacy six months earlier.
Stop number one was the whitewater hotbed of Pucón, where the duo befriended a trio of French kayakers who let them ride along in their truck. Their first paddle saw them tackle a local run called the Rio Trancura. The two styled the Class III lower section, silencing onlookers, before running the Class IV-V upper portion. "It was a little rocky and Lance got a little beat up, but I did it pretty clean," says Lacy, who walked the two Class Vs.
Next up was the Palguin, what he deems "a creek with a bunch of pool-drop waterfalls in the middle of a jungle." Again, he drew stares from locals before styling it. "A lot of the kayakers were super skeptical at first," he says. "But then they saw us do pretty well."
The San Pedro, known as the "Futaleufú of the North," came next, whose Grand Canyon-style rapids upped the push factor. They followed this with a first SUP descent of the Truful-Truful, a Class III creek run with two Class Vs they portaged.
A doofus move then nearly knocked the trip's crown jewel out of reach: While towing his SUP behind his electric Onewheel board (which also raised eyebrows), Lacy ripped a hole in the inflatable and had to spend a day patching it before hopping on the ferry to the ultimate goal: the big-water, Class IV-V Futaleufú, one of the country's biggest badges of courage. Again, gaining the locals' acceptance was difficult. "I asked around if I could tag along on outfitters' trips and was met with a wall of skepticism," Lacy says. "Everyone said I was going to drown."
Finally, a Chilean raft guide succumbed and said they could run safety. Notching a quintessential SUP first, Lacy ran the high water, Class III-IV Bridge-to-Bridge section on the Lower Futaleufú, its main commercial run, with three safety catarafts, making it through such Class IVs as Entrada, Pillow, Cara de Indio and Class V-minus Mundaca.
"I would've gotten absolutely destroyed in there," says Ostrom, who rode along in one of the catarafts. "But he nailed it. It was the best I've ever seen him paddle."
Even Lacy was proud of this final feather in his helmet. "I did pretty well—I only fell off three or four times," he says. "I had extra motivation because of everyone's skepticism. It was some of the most beautiful and amazing paddling I've ever done—probably one of the best river days of my entire life."
Watch Lacy send it in Chile in the full edit from his South American first-descent spree.