DIRTBAGGING NORTH & SOUTH AMERICA ~ DBP Interviews Marcelo Galizio.byMike Toughill

The idea behind conducting this interview happened around a climbers camp in the steep hills above the New River Gorge of West Virginia a few days after the Animal Race on the Upper Gauley last fall, as Marcelo and Aaron Erdrich debated on a Great Falls mission. We agreed to get together at season’s end to recap what has truly been an epic journey around the world for my friend in 2015. He had started the year boating in Brazil with Jake Greenbaum, and I’d seen him up on the Menominee River winning Frank Fest and $800 worth of trips from Small World  Adventures. Then we ran into each other on the Upper Yough. He would go on to compete in other races across the East. I caught up with him back at home with friends and family in Brazil. 

DBP: You are a sponsored kayaker who has travelled all over the world in search of whitewater. How did you get into kayaking? What is the scene like in your home country of Brazil? 
Marcelo: I feel blessed for being able to have this lifestyle and for how far I went with kayaking. I can still clearly remember the first time I saw a little plastic kayak running a 15 ft sliding waterfall and thinking to myself, “that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Back then I used to work teaching people how to surf and as a rappel/zip line guide. I went to a wilderness first aid course, where I met some rafting guides who invited me to come check the river out.  I grew up practising outdoor sports like surfing, scuba diving and horseback riding, and that day, I fell in love with the feeling of drifting down a river, challenging myself in the rapids on a ducky. A couple of weeks later I bought myself an old kayak and started to self-learn this sport that changed my life. 
That was 8 years ago and I’m happy to say that I’m witnessing the growth of the sport in Brazil. Back then, the scene was really small and people used to improvise with raw rafting gear and outdated (read crappy designs) boats. As the years went by, the number of kayakers attending the yearly local river Festivals grew. We still struggle to find good gear at a reasonable price, but that’s a political problem that my country has and I don’t see how it would change for better; but we are trying and we are not giving it up. 

DBP: We’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for a few years from paddling in the Northwoods. How did you find yourself running rivers in what is widely considered an unknown area of the whitewater world? 
Marcelo: I came back home that day after I went rafting and started to research about whitewater kayaking. I watched this youtube video with Erik Boomer called Boomer’s beatdown where after cartwheeling for a few minutes on a nasty pocket hole he pops up, gives a couple of paddle strokes and goes down this 30+ ft waterfall. That video impressed me for the beauty of the place, the color of the water, the cool soundtrack and the amazing stunt performed by Erik. After coming back from a season working as a rafting guide in Australia, I was looking for a place to raft in the States, and applied for numerous companies in California, Idaho and Colorado. Igot an offer from a outfitter located in Michigan who was looking for guides and safety boaters for the season to come. My main goal working as rafting guide was to be on the river as much as I could so I could get better at kayaking. I researched about other rivers and waterfalls near the Menominee River, where I was supposed to be for the next couple of months. I found out that the waterfall Boomer ran was only a couple hours drive from the place, so I decided to go check it out and hopefully run that stout. I didn’t get to run it that season after waiting 3 months for the water levels, but ended up running some other amazing drops like the 50ft. tall Tahquamenon Falls, and met people that I will call friends for the rest of my life. Those people combined with the quality of whitewater made me come back 5 times to the UP (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) since 2012.
DBP: Midwesterners take pride in noting you list the Black River in Michigan as one of your favorite rivers. Tell the uninitiated about this little-known gem. What gets you going there? 
Marcelo: The Black is so special for me and I call it my favorite river on Earth not only because of the amount of bad ass drops it has or the unique beauty of the place, but also because what it represents to me. It’s the reason I got addicted to kayaking. The drop at Boomer’s video is called Gorge Falls and it’s awesome but it’s only a short stretch of what the Black has to offer. The class V section starts with Great Conglomerate Falls, which is a fun, steep and straightforward slide, followed by some boogie water that leads to the next drop. At that point, there’s no easy way out and you are committed to run Potowatomi Falls, a huge dome that ends with a 20ft free fall into a caldron followed by another smaller drop. It has a weird bedrock, really wide horizon line and the landing zone can be shallow if you hit the wrong spot. You must scout before putting in if you are running this one, or go with somebody that really knows the river and follow that guy precisely. After that you’ll run a couple of fun little drops before getting to the top of Birth Channel, the place that kicked Boomer’s ass, and then proceed to Gorge Falls. After Gorge the river mellows out a bit with some amazing rapids like Roller Coaster, Sand Stone, and Under the Falls until it reaches the last and the scariest of all drops, Rainbow Falls. It’s one of the most unique and bizarre drops I’ve  even seen or ran. The Black has it all, good rapids, it’s real pretty, unique bedrock, brown colored water, but the coolest thing is to look back upstream after running Rainbow and see how big that last stout is, while you drift into the largest of all the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. If you want to run the Black, the best time to go is in the spring or late fall/early winter, but I was lucky enough to run about 12 laps during the summer of 2014, meaning, it doesn’t take much rain for this river to come up.

DBP: We are always stoked to see you running 50 foot Tahquamenon Falls, located near Lake Superior in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a number of homies have made the trip with you over the years. Tell us about your first time firing up this drop, the third most voluminous vertical 
falls in the US east of the Mississippi, back in 2012. What is it that keeps you coming back? 
Marcelo: T-falls is a perfect place to improve your free falling skills! Back in 2012 it was the biggest drop I’d ran up until then, and after waiting for a couple of months for the water to come up I fired up at the very minimum level possible with 360cfs. {EDITOR’S NOTE: The upper Midwest suffered through a severe drought that summer and all the rivers were at record low flow so.} I don’t recommend anyone running it that low. It has a square lip and I ended up booting the sh&%$ out of it. The rain kept falling so I came back one week later and ran at proper levels and had a much sweeter line.

The next year I ran the drop 10 times and now I feel comfortable running multiple laps every time I come back. This year it was the last rapid I paddled on my 6 month long road trip through the States, and I drove literally straight to Chicago’s airport to board my plane back to Brazil after having two high water laps at it.
DBP: You took first place in the DBP Frank Fest Piers Gorge Race last July on the Menominee River (the border between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). What are some of the other races you’ve run in the US? Which is your favorite? 
Marcelo: I placed 2nd at my home river’s festival earlier this year, then I did the St. Louis race in Minnesota in which I proudly placed 4th, the Animal Race at the Gauley River in West Virginia, and the King of New York Race Series which consists of the Beaver River Race, The Raquette River Race and Moose Fest. By far those three events are the most fun races I’ve had the pleasure of competing in so far. Since I got back home in November, I’ve placed 1st in 5 different races with the Liquidlogic Braaap. This is my first year racing and I’d much rather spend my time and enjoy being on the river, and I see racing as a good way to push my limits and improve my skills so I’m looking forward to attending more events next year.

DBP: You’ve also competed in one of South America’s premier races, the Futaleufu Race. Describe this river and why it charms so many. 
Marcelo: Besides being one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Futa is just pure fun! It was literally my first kayaking race ever and I can’t wait to come back for next year’s race. It’s hard to explain why is it so good, you have to go check it out for yourself. All I can say is that you should go, because it’s awesome. 
DBP: Hahah, ok, I’ll take you up on that! You had an epic multi-week mission with Jake Greenbaum last winter in South America. Can you tell us a few of the highlights of that trip? 
Marcelo: Yeah, Jake spent a month at my house and I was stoked for having such a sick paddler to go run the shitz with everyday. My state has a lot of potential and water all year long, but it’s hard to find people with time and skill to charge around here.. We got lucky with levels and he got to see all the classic runs of my state at high water. We went hunting for 1st Descents and we found about 15 waterfalls in the range of 40 to 70 ft, all runnable but needing a little more flow. But we won big time at the tiny town of Aberlado Luz, a little whitewater paradise on a short but full on stretch of Rio Chapeco. The result was one week charging big drops on the multiple channels of that river, and a big water runout that got me dizzy watching how many kick flips Jake threw on our way down. Another epic day we had was paddling the feared Itajai-acu River known for its steepness combined with a wide big volume caracter at flood stage, under lightning and thunder. Things got hectic after little Margot had a bad swim at the top of the one mile long rapid but thankfully everything worked out fine. 
DBP: With big river gems like the Futa and Baker rivers, the Patagonia region in Chile and Argentina draws many a dirtbag to dream of one day paddling there. What’s it like to travel to one of the wildest places left on Earth to tackle Class V whitewater? 
Marcelo: It’s really cool.  I’m getting ready for my fourth trip down there and I can’t wait to be dirtbagging in Patagonia again, living out of my car, eating simple food and sleeping by the pristine lakes and snow capped mountains. It’s a 3 days drive from my house but it’s totally worth it. I get to see old friends, paddle with the best and learn from them to improve my skills. Every time I put on a river down there I get a little nervous because I know it will take me out of my comfort zone. Also, I wouldn’t mind driving nonstop for months if my final destination was something similar to the Rio Blanco, in Argentina. The Black is my favorite  and I’ve told you why, but the Blanco is that good, or better, if you like running waterfalls on tight deep gorges with clean turquoise water with your friends all day long.

DBP: You’ve made a name for yourself sending stouts. Tell us about a few of your favorites not already mentioned, and what you have lined up in the future in terms of waterfall running. 
I love the free falling feeling and running waterfalls is my favorite kayaking discipline. Unlike big water and continuous rapids, this where I feel most comfortable. There are a few that I’m glad for doing once and don’t plan on running again, but some of those are the ones I’m the most proud of, like the 1st D of Resurrection Falls on a tributary of my home river, 1st D of Little Quinnesec Falls, in Michigan, the first D of the drop that Jake and I found which is a super gnarly one and the middle line at Big Falls on the Elk River, North Carolina. There is one drop I’ve been waiting on for over 3 years for the right conditions, missing out a couple of times while being in the states.  It’s 3 hours from my house and it’s the most perfect waterfall I’ve ever seen. I think it is about 100 ft tall and needs a good rain to provide a softer landing zone, but it’s good to go and I can’t wait to do it.
DBP: For most people, paddlers included, dropping that far is beyond comprehension. Walk us through what it’s like sitting above the lip of the falls, and how it feels sticking it? 
Marcelo: It starts while scouting. It’s a weird feeling and I lack the words to describe it, but I love it. After identifying all the threats and planning on how to minimize them, you’ve  got to think about your line, your body position, how the water reacts and how it will affect your boat. Memorizing the details is crucial for success and as you go down, things comes fast towards you so you need to know exactly what’s going on and where you are, reacting to the features and executing what you planned. It’s s an amazing feeling when you’re at the bottom celebrating with your friends after styling something scary.
DBP: Gear time! What are you currently boating? Any recommendations on paddles, PFDs etc? 
Marcelo: I’m a huge fan of the paddle Shogun, from Werner. Sometimes you find yourself in committing places where gear fail could cost your life so I take it really seriously. Another piece of gear that I trust my life on is the Immersion Research Royale sprayskirt which is the ultimate skirt for waterfall running, it won’t implode after taking a big hit. But the gear that really makes me a better boater is my boat. I love Liquidlogic designs and I feel extremely lucky to represent the most badass kayak company out there. The Jefe is the best boat ever made for running big drops. The Flying Squirrel is the perfect all around boat for longer trips where I can charge big water and run waterfalls with it. Now I’m having lots of fun paddling the Braaap at my home rivers here in Brazil. I recommend people trying it out as I believe it makes me a better paddler given the high performance turns it makes and the unique connection with the water that this boat has. Not mentioning its super fast. I like Braaaping. 
DBP: Here’s one of my favorite questions… Given unlimited funds, perfect levels, and optimum situation… What are you running and who’s going with? 
Marcelo: Too easy, Rio Blanco gorge  in Argentina with the 12 girls of the 2016’s Playboy Calendar wearing PFD’s and Helmets only. NO SKIRTS! lol
I don’t know man, there are so many places I want to go and expeditions I wanna do, and so many good friends I love boating with, that  it’s hard for me to pick one. Mexico and Norway looks dope but I like going to places that not many people go, and I would pick anybody that has the same vibe on the river, that enjoys being there and that appreciate life and friendship like I do. Everybody would be invited! 
(Although I have to recognise that it is hard to beat partying and paddling stouts with Demshitz and the ZombiBeaver Lodge Guys. I’d also like to give Pat Keller props, for taking me under his wing this last season and for helping me to become a better boater.)
DBP: Cheers, Marcelo! It’s always good to see you smiling on the river, be it on the Menominee (where I worked for years), on the Upper Gauley, or on Vimeo slaying another stout. Thanks for your time, and we leave you with one last question- What’s in store for 2016? 
Marcelo: Thanks Mike, it was a pleasure talking with you and hope all you dirtbags are having fun out there. All I want for the next year to come is to stay happy, healthy, and wet. Peace.

PHOTOS & CREDS in order of appearance: 
Marcelo: “Big Falls, ELK River, NC (?) photo by Adam Freeman 
Cave Falls, Sao Joao River, Santa Catarina, Brazil. paddler: Jake Greenbomb (hehe) Photo by: me
Tahquamenon Falls, MI, USA. photo by Julia Newton with Aerialvantage Productions
I think its called Brendan Falls, not positive though, Rio Blanco, Argentina. photo by Pedro Salles 
Rainbow, Black, you know where, photo by random tourist at the deck. 
my personal 1st descent of tfalls, photo by random tourist at the deck #2, named Scott Cramton 
photo with the boats – Leo Cardoso”
Some links:

Marcelo’s homepage-
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  • Show Comments (1)

  • William Newton

    Nice article and great pictures. You're living the dream Marcelo!

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