The threat of copycat kayakers

Since it’s not yet established that people in the news business have an obligation not to show you this picture, I’m showing you this picture, which — chances are — you’ve probably already seen.

Professional kayaker Hunt Jennings goes over Minnehaha Falls Thursday in Minneapolis. Watching his descent were members of his safety crew, including Shane Brink, Josh Fischer and Tony Locken. Jennings is from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Now, then: Do people in the news business have an obligation not to show you this picture?

Does it make you want to grab a kayak and hit Minnehaha Falls, likely plunging to your death?

“We are deeply concerned that this act and subsequent publicity will inspire others to attempt the same feat,” Dawn Sommers, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, tells the Star Tribune.

The board is worried that the publicity will lead to copycats.

Some news organizations have set a precedent on keeping things quiet if they could lead to copycats.

Should this be one of them?


Update: Just to clarify since the question is coming up. You don’t need a permit to kayak in the creek.

  • R.M.B

    – is MPR’s photo editor nuts?

    “Kayaker braves raging Minnehaha Falls”. The only saving grace is that not many 14 year old boys read the site. How can MPR in good conscious glamorize this stupid stunt?

    Aside from the fact that taking a kayak over Minnehaha is probably illegal, the photo essay is encouraging very dangerous behavior. I’m sorely disappointed in MPR’s editorial judgement.

    And just what is a “professional kayyaker” beside an individual that is taking advantage of poor editorial judgement to stroke his ego.

  • Greg W

    I managed to listen to Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest without turning into some sort of maniacal sadist. I think most teenagers can deal with a picture of a kayaker going over the Falls.

  • John O.

    Since the bygone days when one could send in a submittal to “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on Betamax or VHS, there always seems to be someone angling for a Darwin Award nomination. I’m assuming this guy’s health insurance premium payments are up-to-date.

    What did this “professional kayaker” plan to do if we had not had the recent large rainfall amounts? Take his kayak down the log flume ride at Mall of America or ValleyFair? Sheesh.

    • CHS

      These ‘professional kayakers’ travel the country seasonally to wherever the water is. Summer melt in the mountains in Colorado, spring rains on the North Shore. My guess is this person knew the rains were swelling the states rivers, and will be making the most of it for a week, all along the North Shore and other areas. It’s no different than a skier taking a fresh powder trip to Vale.

      • John O.

        The only time this might equate to a fresh powder run at Vail is if there is a known risk of an avalanche in a part of the resort that is clearly posted and the skier is dumb enough to enter the area anyway. If the person makes it safely to the bottom, he/she will more than likely have their pass stripped from them–regardless of their skill level.

        • CHS

          The only time these creeks/rivers are actually safe to run is in high water. This person had a full safety team and knew very well the risks and did what was needed to mitigate them. Just as a good skier would test for avalanche conditions and take the steps to mitigate risk before taking a fresh powder run.

          • John O.

            Have fun kayaking.

        • Morgan

          If you think those are comparable you don’t know much about either kayaking or avalanches.

          • John O.

            I didn’t say that so spare me Morgan. The two are not comparable. I’ve lived here long enough that I know the relative size of Minnehaha Falls and I’ve seen it dry with my own eyes. Fine, Hunt is highly skilled and did a fantastic job of navigating it. I get that and I can buy that. Glad he made it safely.

            I also have two grown children–both expert skiers and one is now a certified USSA coach. In addition, I used to be a certified USSA official with over 10 years of experience. Determining whether an avalanche risk exits or not is typically made by the National Park Service, The majority of the resorts are in the Arapahoe National Forest, so the NPS has jurisdiction. They also are the ones who set off the explosives to intentionally reduce the risk of avalanches, not the resort.

            I’ll stick to what I know from my experience in the alpine skiing world, and you stick to yours in kayaking and we will get along fine. Troll somewhere else and have a good day.

          • phillipj

            This guy is doing the kayaking equivalent of backcountry skiing. So, not really equivalent to skiing in a resort, although all the true powerhounds out there would probably prefer you stay inbounds with your attitude. USSA, good for you, go bang some gates.

  • CHS

    Not many 14 year old boys have access to a thousand dollars (or more) worth of whitewater kayaking gear just to tickle an itch because they saw it done via MPR or any news spread. (the fact that a 14 year old boy would be reading MPR news aside) Maybe we shouldn’t be showing the winter Olympics on TV anymore either, because we all know that it glorifies the extremely dangerous sports of snowboarding and alpine skiing.

    • R.M.B

      no they don’t, so they are going to try the same thing in an innertube, or since we don’t have many of them anymore, their next choice will be duct taping some pool noodles together. I haven’t lost my inner 14 year old boy.

      White water kayaking is a real sport — pool plunging is not.

      • CHS

        Or maybe they’ll go really old-school and use a barrel, Niagara style.

      • Milford Brimley

        Do you know any 14 year olds? I can’t imagine any of the 14 year olds I know seeing this picture and thinking “I’ma do that.” When I was 14, I spent a ton of time down by the creek. I didn’t once want to go over the falls.

  • Dave

    I wonder if the people who are concerned about copycats also think that violent video games cause gun massacres.

  • CL

    The question that I would ask if I were an editor- “Is it news?” This question is irrelevant to the issue of copycats.
    How does this stunt become newsworthy? Why is it in the news? In the era of soft news/entertainment on other sites, I have come to respect MPR for avoiding the coverage of such events, especially touting it as “news”. Disappointing.

    • Well, it becomes a question then of what is your definition of news. I’ve weighed in on this over the years. A lot of people consider news has to be serious, earth shattering problems. I’ve contended that news shouldn’t leave you with a sense of despair — which, let’s face it, has been a speciality of public radio over the generations.

      So a little slice of life is a reminder that the world is a vastly diverse place.

      I think the job of a news operation is to take a snapshot of the world and that includes, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

      Clearly this wasn’t the extent of our flood coverage. It wasn’t even the lede of our flood coverage. It was simply a part — a small part of our flood coverage.

      Curiously, I posted up post hours before this guy yesterday of a guy kayaking in the Vermillion River.

      I didn’t claim it was the end of the Syrian civil war. Just that it was a slice of life today.

      From what I can tell, nobody gave a damn.

      • R.M.B

        I agree with everything you say above, my view is that the guy kayaking the Vermillion was in pursuit of legit fun, I doubt very much he notified the media prior to his running the river … I can’t say the same about the pool plunger … some other time we can explore the evolution of the term plunger from useful plumbing tool to white water moron

  • When the park board specifically requests the video not be shown/run, does that change the dynamic? It’s certainly of interest – it’s picture of the day material. But is there an affirmative reason to show this video? When you weigh it against the potential harm? I’ve seen people posting today: How many people are now going to try that this weekend? I know I may..:

    • John O.

      Jason, remember that it is YOUR network that employs a certain late-night host who has occasionally featured a segment entitled “Stupid Human Tricks.” 😉

      • ha! True enough. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is. I think it’s useful for people to know that at most news organizations, we do talk it through and think about it!

  • Matt Black

    I don’t see anything wrong with posting the photo. It’s not like the caption also includes “and you can try this too!!”

    People need to learn to exercise common sense. Is this dangerous? You bet. But the kayaker took the steps they needed to protect themselves. Should the iconic photo of steal workers eating lunch on a beam high above NYC been banned or should it be today as too risky or possibly encouraging copy cat behaviour?

    • andy


  • Tongue Clucker

    I recall one of my aunts telling me that grandma always unplugged the TV when Elvis came on, once in a while with a comment that if the censors couldn’t do their jobs, she would do it for them. Alas, where is grandma when you need her? They clearly need her in the newsroom!

  • Assuming that people feel that we should be protected from imagery that might lead others to a particular activity, how do we feel about chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the showing of football games?

    • andy

      Oh my, this may lead to some kind of organized youth-orientated football. Let’s hope if this ever happens, it’ll be limited to two-hand touch or flag. Surely we don’t want our soft-sculled brain-developing kids ramming into each other.

    • That’s a funny line, but what’s the compelling reason to show this video or picture? Is “because it happened,” enough? Does the potential harm matter? (Again, I could go either way on this – I just think it’s interesting to think about).

      • Matt Black

        I do think it qualifies as “news worthy” and Ma Barker sums it up well in her comment at the top: It helps show a different facet of the flooding that we have. The pictures of water over roads or cars being stranded on the common ones that you see.

        To me, this photo changes the game a bit and helps create a new dynamic. It’s showing a familiar place in an unfamiliar way (the water level and speed) and to watch a person go over those rapids really puts in to perspective “this weather is an unusual and awesome event that we’re witnessing right now”

  • kennedy

    To be legally protected from liability, the park board has to publicly discourage this risky activity. This includes not only the signs and barriers, but public statements.

    I think the photo is newsworthy. Having a kayaker in the middle of the deluge makes me feel the power of the water more than a picture of water only. And water levels are certainly a topic of local interest.

  • CommonSencePlz

    It’s totally fine! This guy has a safety team at the ready should anything go wrong. You can tell by his form he has the skills and knowledge to navigate a waterfall properly. There are several whitewater races around the country and the world that feature waterfalls within the course, and I’ve never heard anyone suggest that those kayakers are going to start a rash of irresponsible copycats. This is a sport, not suicide, and not a crime. And even among the young dumb 14 year old boys, I’d be surprised to hear any of them had so little sense as to jump in a flooded waterfall with no training just because they saw a pro kayaker do it with a crew. Any parents who are afraid their children won’t understand that a waterfall is dangerous and that extreme activities require extreme skill need to have a few more conversations at home before getting upset that someone else has such an impressive skill in the first place.
    Now if this was, instead, a pro hockey player who decided to give a public demonstration on checking with a few of his teammates, would people react the same way?

  • Chuck

    If this picture can’t be shown because of fear of copy-catters, then all the footage and stills showing drivers plowing their cars through standing water should be kept out of the coverage too.

  • Chris Rathbun

    who cares?!? if people who are inexperienced are hurt, or worse die, from trying to copy him then that’s their fault. if we shouldn’t show this, then no extreme sports should be shown to anyone who wasn’t there to watch it in person? or should we even prevent these acts from being witnessed? imagine if nobody knew about the Wright brother’s first flight? Extreme athletes can’t be held responsible for others.

    besides, the “news” doesn’t report real news much at all anyway, so without fluff pieces like this, then they might as well turn off the cameras and send everyone home.

  • Jon

    I don’t know. I was in a bar last night and overheard a couple making plans to go back behind the falls later in the night. People do dumb things, whether we protect them from seeing a picture or not.

  • Milford Brimley

    I know it’s probably pretty common, but I don’t know that it’s a journalist’s job to protect their audience from information. Provide context, provide balance, sure.

  • Nora Whitmore

    I am a whitewater kayaker. I know Hunt and he is a very respectful, humble young man. And one seriously skilled kayaker. If anyone wants to copycat please do. But first take lessons. Learn to read water. Get years of experience behind you and you will be running waterfalls too. You will also open yourself up to a world of rivers that very few will ever see. The beauty of running pristine canyons in challenging water is something that will change your life. Waterfalls are fun! There are many that are run regularly right here in Minnesota. This was what was called a first descent. The first time it has been run. It was good that the level was extremely high and made it possible. Yes lower water would be bad but then Hunt knew that and made an educated decision. It was an impressive accomplishment! I think the majority of people look at this as out of their comfort zone so therefore it must be bad and stopped, censured, etc. There are still horizons in this world and people who want to explore them. Please do copycat responsibly!

    • Jeff

      I’m curious what sort of skill does it take to do this? It looks like you just need to point the kayak in the right direction (downstream). If the creek was strewn with boulders I can see that as a deterrent from copycats.

      • Nora Whitmore

        The lead in to the drop is technical to start with. Just keeping a boat upright to enter the falls takes skill. Then you have to have the control to have the boat where you want it at the lip of the falls. There are ways to land when you go off of a waterfall. The higher the falls the more you want a more vertical entry. Landing flat can compress the spine. Lower falls can be what is called boofed. This is where you take a stroke just at the lip to avoid a hydrolic or hole at the bottom. There are many things than can go wrong during the drop. Over rotation is one. Being able to enter and land in a controlled manor is a learned skill. I hope that explains more.

        • Jeff

          Ahhh… Thanks for the explanation! I guess like most things it’s a lot harder than it looks.

          • Nora Whitmore

            Exactly! When you run a good line on a rapid it looks effortless. This illusion has lured many wanna be kayakers into water that will be way too aggressive for them. Anyone can whitewater as long as they start out with some good lessons.

  • I’m not sure that I understand the debate. Let me see if I understand this correctly: an experienced, professional kayaker with many drops larger than this one to his credit runs Minnehaha Falls, and it makes the news because it is newsworthy both for the successful drop and because of the record flooding that made the drop safe for someone of his caliber. But you’re asking: should the news not report the news because something is dangerous, right?

    So, is the debate that the news shouldn’t publish something newsworthy that is dangerous, because there might be someone who goes out and copies what they see on the news?

    If that’s the debate, then you better stop reporting everything except feel good stories, because if the logic holds, I’d hate to see copycats of other news stories that had tragic ends.

    Perhaps, the debate should be: are reporters doing their job correctly with captioning to make sure that readers/viewers know the context of the image?

    • KTFoley

      You nailed it. If a feat can be accomplished only by a great deal of work & practice, then it must follow that doing it successfully will inspire others to … forego that same work & practice.

      Given that the best practitioners deceive us all by making the hard look easy, here’s a starter list of other topics that should be banned for their potential inspiration. What else? Surely we can put our heads together and make the news more safe? Think of the children!
      – The Boundary Waters
      – Winter Olympics
      – Aviation
      – Ballet
      – Academic Accomplishment
      – Farming
      – Lifelong kindness