As the trip neared its end, the river saved its best for last—“like the bomb at the end of a string of firecrackers,” Archie says—a short but harrowing white-water descent considered the most difficult on the Colorado. Appropriately for the Hawaiian big-wave surfer, the rapid is called Lava Falls, named for a volcanic cinder cone towering on the canyon rim above.
Lava Falls drops steeply down what one white-water enthusiast web site describes as a “wild, frothing, bone-chilling” quarter-mile. Part of the intensity of the place, Archie says, was the buildup to it. The whole way down the river, he says, “people kept asking me, ‘Are you going to do the Lava? Are you going to do the Lava?’ I told them, ‘I plan to paddle every part of this river.’”
When they finally got there, a cheering section of rafters and kayakers had assembled to watch Archie shoot the rapid. But first he hiked up the wall to scout the rapid with the river guides, who pointed out the best line to take and the churning pitfalls to avoid—expert advice that Archie credits as the main reason he was able to make it down the river.
“Looking at the rapids with the guides, that’s when I really saw how life-threatening it could be if I got caught in the wrong spot,” Archie says. “I thought, ‘OK, this is getting pretty serious.’”
Archie admits that he was nervous, but knew he had to just go for it. “When you put your life on the line like that, it’s all about commitment,” he says. “When you hold back, that’s when you get hurt.”
He launched himself into the rapid and, tossed by the churning river, quickly found his well-honed water skills kicking in. “When that happens it’s like overdrive,” he says. “Once I’m in it, it’s like going to work.”
He made it safely through Lava Falls’ clutches, falling off his board a couple of times but managing to climb back on. Then, just to savor the experience, he hiked back up and did it again.