Story by Derek Ferrar
Photos by Aaron Huey
Last summer, when Archie Kalepa got a phone call inviting him to be part of a river-rafting trip through the Grand Canyon with an extraordinary group of American Indian community leaders, the renowned big-wave surfer and head Maui lifeguard says he instantly got “chicken skin.”
“Going down the Grand Canyon on the river was one of the things on my ‘bucket list’ to do before I die,” Archie says.
But little did he know that he would wind up riding 187 miles of the Colorado River through the canyon on his stand up paddleboard, braving some of the river’s wildest rapids and setting a presumed long-distance stand up record in the bargain.
“The funniest thing is I never planned to stand up paddle down the canyon,” Archie says. “I only thought of bringing a board on the trip as a kind of conversation piece, something that people could try out.”
Once he got on the river, however, he quickly became determined to paddle the whole canyon. In the end, the 46-year-old waterman says, “I walked away with one of the greatest experiences of my life, right up there with surfing seventy-foot waves at Jaws. And I learned so much more about myself as a native man.”