Gonzalo Robert Parraguez’s image of paddler Kilian Ivelic sending a waterfall in the Cajon del Maipo, on Chile’s Maipo River, is dreamy for more than just its magical light, billowing water and otherworldly textures of the rocks channeling the cascade. Ivelic, 24, grew up dreaming about paddling the class V Maipo canyon and has been developing his boating skills for years on Chile’s iconic whitewater rivers—tracked and documented by Robert Parraguez’s lens. The duo’s efforts paid off: 25-year-old Robert Parraguez won Red Bull’s prestigious 2023 Illume award for emerging photographers for this photo. Along with producing a remarkable image, the acclaim showcases a tremendous partnership between an extreme athlete and an adventurous lensman poised to take the next step.

“Without him, none of these places would look so amazing,” says Robert Parraguez. “The first time I met Kili was by chance on the river. He’s always so motivated and such a nice person; he’s become a very good partner for these missions.”

How to win adventure photography’s most prestigious prize

Robert Parraguez and Ivelic waited patiently for months for the right water levels to run the Maipo’s rock-clad waterfalls, just south of Santiago in central Chile. Then, in late May 2022, Ivelic gave the photographer a call. The pair drove for two hours, trekked 10 minutes to the canyon and set up anchors for a challenging 15-meter rappel to give Robert Parraguez and a safety boater access to the river. The focus was on helping Ivelic achieve his dream descent, Robert Parraguez recalls. “Honestly, when I was walking to the waterfall, I never thought I would get an award-winning picture.”

a whitewater kayaker drops off a rushing waterfall in a cavern
“It’s the people you meet, the bonds you form and all the experiences you have together. For me, that’s the most important thing.” | Feature photo: Red Bull Illume // Gonzalo Robert Parraguez

Such a harrowing approach puts a premium on compact camera equipment and a versatile zoom lens, Robert Parraguez says. A wide-angle perspective captures the scale of the scene: Reflecting on the day, Robert Parraguez can still hear the deep bass rumble of the falls, taste the misty air, and sense the butterflies he felt in his stomach as his friend planted a forward stroke into frothy water at the apex of the drop.

These experiences give Robert Parraguez all the resolve he needs to continue with his life’s passion to travel the world, camera in hand. Living in Chile gives him access to some of the world’s finest whitewater rivers as well as ocean surf breaks. His recent film, There’s Good In Everything with Spanish whitewater superstar Aniol Serrasolses, won the Best Whitewater Film award at the 2024 Paddling Film Festival.

“I started photography when I was 18, when I left school and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Robert Parraguez says. “I think what I like most about being an adventure photographer is just what it says: photographing the adventure and always being on adventures with amazing people. One of the biggest difficulties in taking these photos is always the access, but at the same time, it’s also the fun part—when you want something really bad and have to figure out how to get there to make it happen. That’s where the adventure begins.”

Watch Gonzalo Robert Parraguez’s film Origen, starring Kilian Ivelic, and There’s Good In Everything in the 2024 Paddling Film Festival at paddlingfilmfestival.com.

Cover of the Spring 2024 issue of Paddling Magazine, Issue 71This article was first published in the Spring 2024 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

“It’s the people you meet, the bonds you form and all the experiences you have together. For me, that’s the most important thing.” | Feature photo: Red Bull Illume // Gonzalo Robert Parraguez



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