Terrifying Footage Of Kayaker Caught In Sieve

This video highlights one of the greatest fears kayakers have on the river. It is the reason that river safety is so important and is why all guides and professionals are trained in swiftwater rescue.

This video was published back in 2015 but is still a great example to talk about today. A team of professional kayakers including Rafa Ortiz and Rush Sturges head to Nevis Bluff rapids on the Kawarau River in New Zealand.

The Kawarau River is big. In the video they mention this trip was planned after a few weeks of running smaller rivers and switching to larger water was going to be a challenge.

“You look at it from shore. You look at it from every single different angle you can, but it just comes down to being in your boat and what ever you see when paddling through it. The water is changing every single second” said Ortiz.

Leading the group was local kayaker Jordy Searle, who has paddled the river a number of times and knows it well. As the group was making their way quickly downriver, Searle turned to give the group a thumbs-up signal. Just as he was doing this, his boat was sucked into a sieve.

Among the most terrifying hazards a paddler can face, a sieve is a narrowing that forces rushing water beneath the rocks where it can trap a kayaker and hold them under.

The group quickly raced to shore tossing throw bags allowing Searle a few extra breaths before going completely under water. “It’s hard to put into words what it is like when you see somebody die” said Sturges.

At this point there was not much the team was able to do without putting themselves at risk. They were just waiting hoping that he was going to pop out on the other side.

The following seconds likely feeling like hours, Sturges talks about the relief of finally seeing Searle come to the surface of the water.

Jordy Searle trapped in sieve in Nevis Bluff Rapids
Jordy Searle trapped in sieve in Nevis Bluff Rapids in New Zealand | Photo: Courtesy of Outside TV

It really makes you question how worth it, it really is. I mean, how many more drops, how many more rivers, how many more crazy rapids can you run before you lose a friend – Sturges

Rivers can be a humbling place for even the most experienced paddlers as this video shows. It stresses the importance of being properly trained in river rescue, also ensuring you are always wearing the proper safety equipment.

It is amazing that they managed to capture this entire situation so well. This being filmed at a time when drones where not a thing and instead paddlers had to arrange for a helicopter to follow them down river.

Times are changing. Now that drones are becoming much more common in a filmmaker’s tool kit, these scary situations are more likely to be captured and can be shared with other paddlers to learn from.


  1. I’ve seen this clip before. Scary. On this viewing I think the opening shots show a different high volume river than the lower volume footage where the incident occurred. Maybe same river but totally different flow. Am I incorrect?

  2. The pin definitely did not happen in Nevis Bluff on the Kawarau R. I felt the same way as Casey above so I touched base with Rush for clarification. Outside TV definitely took some editing liberties. The pin happened on the Kokathai River, a lower volume run.

  3. I have been white water kayaking for 52 years now. I am 75 years old and still at it. I am a cruiser, not a stunt man, not a dare devil. I am not out to prove that I can paddle anything, but just that I had a great day on the water. I paddled with Walter Blakadar on the Middle Fork of the Salmon river in Idaho in 1969. He drowned in a sweep, as did a good friend of his. I have know several others that drowned. I portage stuff that I am not confident about. Often it is the best paddlers that drown, because they have too much to prove to themselves and others. There is one fellow that paddles in our group that is 85 years old, and still very good at It. Two ladies are about 77 years old and still running spring white water and loving it. Good thing they did not drown 30 years ago and could not enjoy this sport today.


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