Near-death ordeal on film


When Kiwi pro kayaker Ben Brown made his latest whitewater movie, he didn’t realise he’d be filming his mate’s near-death experience. 

The 33-year-old Red Bull athlete’s terrifying ordeal is captured during his short film Flow Hunters, to be screened at the Adventure Film Festival starting tomorrow. 

Brown and three kayak buddies travelled to some of the most spectacular – and most dangerous – rivers across the country earlier this year to film the documentary. 

It was while on the West Coast of the South Island when what began as a normal expedition on the Kokatahi River went horribly wrong.  

“Jordy [Searle], who lives on the West Coast, ran a hard rapid, did it perfectly, then turned around to give us the all-clear sign and in that instant he took his attention off the river, he got wedged in front of a big boulder that had a whole lot of water flowing under it,” Brown recalls. 

 “His boat got squeezed on to his legs and he couldn’t get out and his head was going in and out of the water.” 

A safety crew member managed to get a rope to him quickly but it was difficult getting Searle from out of his boat without having his head underwater. 

“He finally came out of the boat and immediately got sucked under this giant boulder and disappeared for about 40 seconds. It wasn’t that cool.” 

Miraculously, Searle was eventually spat out further down the rapid. 

“I was sure he wasn’t going to make it. It’s probably the closest call I’ve seen in 20 years of kayaking. It’s all in the movie,” Brown says. 

The horror was captured from a special helicopter camera operated by award-winning Wanaka cinematographer Tim Pierce. 

“Apparently Tim thought he was filming someone dying,” Brown says. 

Brown, who has been kayaking professionally for 11 years, says paddlers at the top of their game know the risks involved in their dangerous sport. 

“Pretty much anyone who kayaks for any length of time at a high level by some degree of separation knows someone that drowns kayaking. 

“It’s something you’d hate to happen on a trip but the more you paddle the higher the chances are. It was one of those things, ‘Oh shit, is it finally going to happen now?’ 

“All you can take out of it is a learning experience. You go into these rivers that are really dangerous and you’ve just got to be humble when you’re in there. We dissected the incident afterwards and tried to figure out what we could have done differently and we figured it was one of those freak things. 

“The guy it happened to said it was a bit of a wake-up call for him but it’s still worth it for the rewards you get out of it.” 

Drama aside, Flow Hunters is a 24-minute flick that shows the natural beauty of New Zealand’s rivers. Brown’s a self-taught director and camera operator – holding a high-end digital SLR between his legs – and edits footage in his studio at his Hamilton home. 

“I’ve kayaked in dozens and dozens of countries and made all these great friends and been involved in awesome productions all around the world. For a few years I’ve been quite keen to take all that experience and bring it back to my home country and show the kayaking side of NZ in a way that it hadn’t been shown before,” he says. 

“NZ’s been an international hot-spot for guys escaping the northern hemisphere winter. I wanted to not only show where kayaking in NZ has got to but also show these awesome parts of NZ that we get to go to and the adventures we have.” 

Brown is a guest speaker at the Adventure Film Festival at Reading Cinemas on Saturday. The festival, featuring 11 action-packed movies from around the world, runs tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. 

The Adventure Film Festival Programme

Friday, 8pm $20
– Guest speaker Queenstown’s Chuck Berry opens festival
– Short film competition finalists screening and awards
– Airborne: The life of Chuck Berry
– Unbreakable: The Western States 100
– Deeper

Friday, midnight $10
– The Art of Flight

Saturday, 3pm $15
– Airborne: The life of Chuck Berry
– Unbreakable: The Western States 100
– Deeper

Saturday, 8pm $20
– Photography competition finalists
– Guest speaker American kayak adventurer Ben Brown
– Red Bull Flow Hunters
– Snow Collective
– Strength in Numbers

Sunday, 9am $10

– The Art of Flight

Sunday, 3pm $15

– Red Bull Flow Hunters
– Snow Collective
– Strength in Numbers

Sunday, 8pm $20
– Mammalian
– Vertical Sailing Greenland
– Proximity Flight
– On Assignment
– The Fall Line

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