|Two Seconds to Glory
by Christian Knight
When he was just 10 years old, little Tao Berman walked
through his mom's door in Washington State with a rock
imbedded in his head, and a chunk of flesh ripped from
his side. "That's the price to pay for falling
off a bike while careening down a mountainside,"
mountain bike accident is one of the first memories
Berman recounts when he first realized he was different
from a lot of people. "For awhile," Berman
said, "I just thought everyone was like me, and
then I realized maybe I was different. I'm still trying
to figure out whether that's good or bad."
Tao Berman doesn't ride down mountain sides anymore,
but that same mentality that pushed him when he was
10 is pushing him to push the envelope in the extreme
kayaking world now.
Within the last two years, Berman has emerged into
the extreme kayaking circle as one of the premier extremists
through an exhausting succession of remarkable feats;
including two world record claims to the highest vertical
waterfall ever kayaked adding to his several first descents
and only descents of what is usually considered "unrunnable
In 1997, Berman added to the increasing debate as to
who out of three possible contenders really owned the
world record for the highest vertical waterfall ever
kayaked by kayaking an 83-foot Mexican waterfall on
the hurricane swollen El Tomata River near Vera Cruz,
The waterfall was nestled deep in a treacherous canyon
farther away from civilization than most people would
prefer to go. The only measurement consisted of a seventy-five
foot throw rope dangling about ten feet from the bottom.
As a result, Guinness scoffed at the claim, which failed
nearly all of their stringent technicalities for documentation.
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The video footage did appear on Erik Link's debut
film, "Twitch," but exposure was ultimately
overwhelmed by Shannon Carroll's less credible, yet
more exposed world record claim on Oregon's 78 foot
Sahalie Falls in the heavily trafficked Sahalie State
While Berman was never officially crowned as the world
record holder, his run on that Mexican waterfall hatched
him into notoriety of the most extreme kayakers.
His most recent and perhaps most significant feat
took place August 23, 1999 amidst the signs, observation
decks and trails of Upper Johnston Falls in Banff National
Forest. There stood the 98 foot and four inch waterfall
that could shatter the festering question about who
really owned the world record for the highest vertical
waterfall ever kayaked. The waterfall thundered through
a seven foot wide limestone chasm into a boiling, white
cauldron. Tourists, expressing various forms of emotion,
from a somber panic to eager curiosity squeezed into
protective observation decks. On top of it all stood
5'5 Tao Berman.
Two hours of intense calculation and two
seconds of breathless falling later, Tao Berman became
the undisputed world record holder for the highest vertical
waterfall ever kayaked for the second time in two years.
As of August 23, 1999, there has been no question about
who holds the world record, where it was and how high
it stands. And no, this time, Guinness isn't laughing.
They have already begun documenting.
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