What kind of a lunatic would throw himself over a giant waterfall in a flimsy piece of plastic not much bigger than a child’s toy? Stand up, Shaun Baker, an extreme kayaker from Maidenhead, Berkshire.
This nine-time British whitewater freestyle kayaking champion already holds the world record for the longest freefall over a waterfall. That was a drop of almost 65ft off the Aldeyjarfoss falls on the Skjalfandafljot, a glacial river in Iceland, in 1996. Now he is looking for even higher waterfalls to leap over. Indeed, he aims eventually to take on the big daddy of them all — Niagara.
No one has gone over the top of this 167ft monster in a kayak or canoe and survived. But Baker has a secret weapon to help him stay clear of the vertical torrent that forces any object caught up in large waterfalls under the surface — usually with fatal consequences for swimmers or canoeists. It’s a 330cc two-stroke engine. He has invented the world’s first jet kayak.
“I’m planning to run some huge, record-breaking waterfalls,” says Baker, 44. “The ones I had to walk away from in the past because I simply would not have been able to clear the rocks at the bottom. This time I can stop 10 metres from the edge, fire the engine up and get a ballistic burst of speed and just fly right over the top. Fifty metres downstream — that’s where I’m going to land — literally flying.”
Baker has already recorded a top speed of 25mph in his invention and believes the jet kayak will give him the extra acceleration to tackle higher, more dangerous falls for the first time.Before this can happen, however, there’s a lot of work to do, and I joined him alongside Bray Lake, not far from his home, as he made refinements to his motorised kayak in preparation for future record attempts. …