Interview with Rob Raker

Just another day at the office for Rob Raker. Photo Rob Raker
Just another day at the office for Rob Raker.
Photo Rob Raker

Catching up with filmmaker and kayak guide extraordinaire Rob Raker has seen it all during his time on this planet. As an accomplished climber, kayaker, skier he has traveled to all seven continents and documented many adventures. For the last five years he has been working with Erik Weihenmayer the blind summiteer of Everest developing a system for blind kayaking. He recently completed short movie Sensory Overload documenting their endeavors was selected to be part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. I caught up to him during one of his few downtimes. How did you meet Erik? We met in Antarctica when Erik was down there attempting to climb Vinson Massif during his seven summits bid. I was filming for NOVA and our paths crossed and have been headed in the same direction since. How did you get involved with his kayaking adventure? I was visiting Erik at his cabin outside of Nederland and he expressed interest in kayaking. I was not to surprised because if you know Erik nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. We went to the lake on his property and started with the basics, rolls, turns and paddling in a straight line. If you had seen us those first couple of times you would have fallen over laughing, it was a comedy of errors. Did you ever imagine shooting Class V rapids? Well you learn quickly with Erik to open your mind to possibilities so yes I did. The first couple of times we were on rivers we quickly realized this was going to be much tougher than any other challenge we had tackled. We had to start from scratch no one had ever tried what we were doing, we thought we could take our system we used on land and transfer that to water, boy were we mistaken. What did you figure out? Erik has amazing 3D echolocation it is one of the most amazing things about him. When you are in the mountains he paints a visual map in his mind by the echoes and sounds around him. At times you almost forget he is blind, he will point in the direction of landmarks, tell when the trail is turning its quite amazing. On the water all of his audio cues are jumbled his radar is out of whack, sound is reflected. Often he would think he was facing down stream when in fact he was upstream. You must remember there are no straight lines running a river; you are constantly avoiding obstacles you see approaching obviously Erik could not see them.  We tried bells on a boat, blowing whistles, shouting commands, nothing seemed to work. We finally settled on a series of simple commands delivered by waterproof two-way radios. Oh and as guide I moved behind him so I can watch my line and guide him. So if you were on the water how did you film? The movie was an afterthought I took five years of footage shot from Go Pro’s, shore cameras, friends’ footage and built the film. It took a village to document the unique moments and open feelings expressed in the movie. What is next for you two? The river running bug has bitten Erik. We ran part of the Grand Canyon last year with a goal of running the whole river plus there are so many other great rivers to shoot. We will see what pops up I can tell you we are continually training for the next adventure. It is an ongoing action packed comedy of errors filled with laughter.

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