16 Oct First IRF World White Water Rafting Summit a huge success!
Powerful actions taken to improve rafting safety, reduce risks and be responsible stewards of our environment and rivers
by Shannon Farley
In a bold move to unite the rafting industry in Costa Rica and worldwide in stronger safety measures and environmental protection, more than 200 people from over 20 nations joined together at the first-ever World White Water Rafting Summit of the International Rafting Federation (IRF) in Costa Rica last week.
Focusing on the theme “Risk management for a prosperous future”, the World White Water Rafting Summit convened at the Costa Rica Convention Center and the Pacuare River from Oct. 8 to 11, 2019.
Rafting leaders from around the world and more than 200 national and international participants attended the Summit with the objective of exchanging knowledge about risks and safety and how to manage them to guarantee a successful future of rafting; about environmental risks that threaten rivers, like dams and climate change; rafting guide and commercial operator accreditation; the importance of wilderness emergency and first aid training; difficult topics like drugs and alcohol among guides and clients, and overcoming language barriers with international tourists; the role of river guides in being changemakers; and how to be good river stewards.
“This Summit is important for the international rafting industry because we are discussing and sharing information on issues such as risk management, safety, environmental conservation for rivers, the importance of clean water, reforestation, as well as training, education and certification of guides,” said Rafael Gallo, IRF Honorary President and event organizer.
The Summit, which was held under the auspices of the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), presented Costa Rica as a pioneer destination in rafting and at the forefront of adventure tourism.
“Rafting in Costa Rica enjoys international prestige as a sport and adventure tourism attraction. Costa Rica has been participating in world events since 1989 and has been the host of IRF World Rafting Championships three times. But it is not a risk-free activity, so ICT is pleased that this World White Water Rafting Summit focused on risk management in our country. We strongly support it as a symbol of our institutional commitment for a safe tourism destination,” said María Amalia Revelo, Minister of Tourism in Costa Rica.
Presenters from 10 nations, including New Zealand, Finland, Mexico, United States, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and the United Kingdom, led engaging and interactive sessions during two days of the Summit. Notable experts included Joe Willis Jones, President of the International Rafting Federation and member of the Board of Directors; Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy Carlos Manuel Rodríguez; Ian Ponce, representative of the UN Climate Change Commission; Rafael Gallo, IRF Honorary President; and Monti Aguirre, Latin America Program Coordinator for International Rivers.
Given this first event’s huge success, the IRF plans to now hold World White Water Rafting Summits every two years in different locations around the world. Since Costa Rica is leading the way on the initiative, the next Summit in 2021 will again be held in Costa Rica, said Gallo.
“An important message that we have left after this first meeting is that we need to unite to grow the industry,” Gallo added. “We must shorten the distance between each encounter. Between 1995 and 2015 there have been no worldwide rafting exchanges, and now we achieved it. At the close of this first Summit, we feel very satisfied because we met our goals; and we see the necessity to meet every two years going forward.”
Summit finale sees 200+ persons rafting on the Pacuare River
The World White Water Rafting Summit 2019 closed in a huge finale on Oct. 11 with a massive symbolic rafting trip, entitled “One River, One World, One Family”, of more than 200 people on the renowned Pacuare River. The historic rafting trip united for the first time 16 rafting companies from all over Costa Rica, with 57 guides and 150 paddlers in 37 rafts and 12 kayaks, to send a message in favor of river conservation.
“The message we want to send with this first massive river navigation is that rafting can be done with passion, safety, and at the same time show that we can take care of the environment and have clean and free-flowing rivers,” said Rafael Gallo. “Rivers are the world’s arteries, and with this event we exemplify the symbolism that to move forward – to navigate – you have to work as a team.”
At the end of the big day, the Costa Rica National Alliance of Rivers and Watersheds presented the first edition of the “Rafael Gallo Palomo, Safeguarding the Future of our Rivers” award to the environmental organization Río Urbano (Urban Rivers) that is working to clean and protect rivers in the country’s capital region. The award pays homage to Rafael Gallo, pioneer in rafting and river conservation in Costa Rica, and is intended to recognize and stimulate environmental improvement for rivers and water sources around the country.
U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica gives thumbs up to safe rafting industry
U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Sharon Day showed her support for improving safety in the rafting industry by going rafting on the Pacuare River during the World White Water Rafting Summit finale.
Ambassador Day was one of 207 people from across the globe who joined together under the banner message of “One River, One World, One Family” for the closing event navigating the world-class rapids of the Pacuare River.
The ambassador’s participation is especially poignant since in October 2018, four U.S. citizens and their Costa Rican river guide lost their lives during a whitewater rafting trip in extreme conditions on the Naranjo River in Quepos. Since that incident, the Costa Rican rafting industry has united to train and certify river guides to international standards by the IRF, to adopt a nationwide code of ethics for rafting guides and companies, to join an IRF pilot project to certify commercial rafting operators, and other measures to improve safety standards.
“At the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, we work with the ICT and the Ministry of Health on regulations, inspections and security to increase the safety of adventure tourism for U.S. citizens and all tourists in Costa Rica. I participated in the first World Rafting Summit, in which we analyzed issues such as the best security practices in equipment and rafting,” Ambassador Day tweeted on Oct. 13.
“This is a positive message that the government of the United States is supportive of rafting in Costa Rica. That it is not dangerous as long as safety measures are followed. She enjoyed herself with a big smile the whole time,” said Rafael Gallo, who joined Ambassador Day on the Pacuare River trip, along with IRF President Joe Willis Jones and other members of the Summit organizing committee.
Pilot project of the IRF to certify rafting companies begins in Costa Rica
Within the framework of the World White Water Rafting Summit, the International Rafting Federation (IRF) announced that Costa Rica will be the country with which it starts its pilot program to accredit commercial rafting operators. Thus far, the IRF has focused on the accreditation and certification of guides; however, it has a pilot plan ready so that rafting operators can undertake an evaluation that allows them to be accredited.
The pilot scheme will be trialed with assistance from the Costa Rica Sports Association for Adventure and Paddling (ADAR) over the coming 12 to 18 months with a full report at the next White Water Rafting Summit.
IRF and International Rivers sign historic agreement to be better river stewards
During the close of the conference portion of the IRF’s Summit on Oct. 10, leading global rivers campaign organization International Rivers and the IRF signed an historic Memorandum Of Understanding to bring together the common goals of both organizations to work together for the benefit of all rivers and waterways across the globe.
“Since the founding of both the International Rafting Federation and International Rivers, we have both been committed to the responsible stewardship and protection of the planet’s rivers. Today, we formally declare our commitment to working together in all ways possible toward this common goal.”
Powerful message: River guides and rafting companies are guardians of the rivers
The message from several international speakers during the World White Water Rafting Summit 2019 was loud and clear: river guides and rafting companies should be the guardians of the world’s rivers. Not only does their livelihood depend on clean and healthy rivers, they spend a considerable amount of time on rivers and are in a position with clients in their rafts to spread positive conservation messages.
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of the Environment and Energy for Costa Rica, delivered a powerful message to Summit participants on Oct. 9 that no more dams should be built in Costa Rica. Instead, he pointed to solar energy as the future power source for the country that currently generates 97% of its electricity from renewable sources (primarily hydroelectric dams).
The following day, Ian Ponce, representative of the UN Climate Change Commission, spoke at the Summit to ratify the participation of the IRF in the Framework of Climate Action for Sport. According to Ponce, sports organizations need to play an active part in achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement, that is, climate neutrality by 2050.
Both Ponce and Rodriguez were at the Costa Rica Convention Center attending the PreCOP25 international meeting that precedes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Chile in December.
The World White Water Rafting Summit did its part in helping preserve the environment and was awarded the Ecological Blue Flag of Costa Rica in the category of special events. The Summit achieved a perfect score of 100 for implementing all the requirements for a sustainable use of resources.
Costa Rica’s rafting industry unites under the World White Water Rafting Summit
On Sept. 11, as a precursor event to the World White Water Rafting Summit, the first ever National Meeting of Rafting Guides in Costa Rica was held in the Pacific coast rafting town of Quepos/Manuel Antonio. During that meeting, the Costa Rica Sports Association for Adventure and Paddling (ADAR), which is the local representative for the IRF, signed an agreement with the National Learning Institute (INA) to promote safety and prevention protocols in rafting. INA will now accept the IRF’s rafting guide certification as being equivalent to their guide training. The agreement is “another step for the professional consolidation of rafting guides and a contribution to the projection of the country’s image with respect to international tourism,” said Rafael Gallo, president of ADAR and honorary president of the IRF.
“We held the first national meeting of rafting guides, which was incredibly important for the unification of the rafting industry in Costa Rica. We plan to continue these meetings annually, changing the location every year to different important rafting towns around the country. We’ll focus on different themes and may add a rafting festival in the future,” he added.
Rafting is one of the top adventure activities in Costa Rica, a country recognized internationally as a destination for adventure and eco-tourism. The country has participated in world rafting events since 1989 and has been the host of world championships three times.
“This Summit is a vote of confidence that rafting in Costa Rica is world class and that we are still a leader in the rafting industry worldwide,” said Rafael Gallo. “Costa Rica is a top destination for sports and adventure tourism, especially in rafting. So, for competitive athletes, it’s a great place to come and train. And for people who just want to enjoy rafting, they can do that on commercial trips with a trained guide. Costa Rica has many different rivers with varying difficulty levels in a wide variety of ecosystems, from tropical dry forest to rainforest.”