Weekend Warm-Up: Nouria Newman in ‘Wild Waters’

Nouria Newman wants to be the first female kayaker to run a 30m waterfall. And within the first few minutes of Wild Waters — Red Bull’s film about her life and accomplishments — you know that somewhere, somehow, she’s going to do it.

Maybe it’s because of the way her contemporaries describe her: “She plays chess on the river better than anyone else.”

Or maybe it’s her own words, which suggest that this consummate athlete has transcended childish protestations of fearlessness.

“Often people tell me, ‘you’re never scared!’ But I’m always scared,” Newman says over footage of her scouting a huge, intimidating, muddy waterfall. “And sometimes I’m extremely scared.”

nouria newman scouts some rapids

Nouria Newman scouts rapids in the film “Wild Waters.” Screenshot: Red Bull

 

The 31-year-old French kayaker’s professional career began in 2010, but her kayaking life began much earlier. Newman caught the paddling bug early, but her parents forced her to take swim lessons before they’d let her seriously pursue kayaking. She complied, learned her strokes, and then cheerfully insisted her parents keep their end of the bargain.

Nouria Newman at a young age

Nouria Newman, lifelong paddler. Screenshot: Red Bull

 

Fast-forward a few years, and Newman is racking up wins in not one or two but three paddling disciplines: canoe, freestyle, and extreme kayaking.

Oh yeah, and she also has a master’s degree in journalism and political science.

Adventure and a sense of fun

Newman is more than just a competitive paddler. She also has a habit of setting off on grand — some would say extreme — kayaking adventures. In 2018, she solo paddled the Tsarap, Zanskar, and Indus rivers. In 2021, she spent a month paddling extreme rivers in Iceland — not a landscape known for easy travel.

HBO introduced Newman to a non-paddling audience when it included her in its adventure sport documentary mini-series “Edge of the Earth”. Newman appears in Episode II: Raging Torrent, alongside fellow elite kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Erik Boomer. The episode covers the kayakers’ attempt to run Ecuador’s take-no-prisoners Chalupas River.

Throughout all of her competitions, victories, and adventures, Newman retains a sense of playfulness. For her, kayaking is about more than medals and podiums. It’s about pure, unadulterated fun.

A kayaking first

As we said at the top, anyone watching “Wild Waters” knows Newman is going to reach her goal of becoming the first woman to kayak a 30m waterfall.

That doesn’t make it any less heart-pounding as she slides into her boat, centers herself, takes a deep breath, and pushes into the water above Pucuno Falls in Ecuador.

Nouria Newman goes over Pucuno Falls in Ecuador.

Nouria Newman goes over Pucuno Falls in Ecuador. Screenshot: Red Bull

 

As she pilots her boat over the falls, the music is hushed and breathless, a fitting accompaniment to the stomach-dropping heights the kayaker just flung herself from.

“You’re taking a little from everything you’ve been through, from everything you’ve built, to run a waterfall that lasts 2.5 seconds,” Newman says as she descends to the murky brown waters below.

“What’s crazy is all that I had to do to get here.”

Watch Red Bull’s “Wild Waters” here.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).