Summit - Mark Hirst 1

Reducing risk, improving safety, empowering rivers: three key messages from the IRF Summit

IRF President Joe Willis Jones and IRF Honorary President Rafael Gallo

Taking ownership of our environment and rivers while also reducing risk and improving safety were definitely the key messages at the first ever IRF World White Water Rafting Summit.

  • Binding agreements were signed by the International Rafting Federation (IRF) for river conservation and for the piloting of a rafting operator accreditation.
  • A historic rafting trip on the Pacuare River of more than 200 people at the close of the World White Water Rafting Summit  sent a message in favour of river conservation.
  • Costa Rica Minister for Environment and Energy, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, presents to the Summit

    The U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica gives a thumbs up to a safer rafting industry.

  • Organisers declare the first World White Water Rafting Summit as hugely successful and agree to hold the conference every two years with rotating locations.
  • The Summit receives the Costa Rica Ecological Blue Flag in the category of Special Events.

In a bold move to unite the rafting industry in Costa Rica and worldwide in stronger safety measures and environmental protection, more than 200 people from over 20 nations joined together at the first ever World White Water Rafting Summit of the International Rafting Federation (IRF) in Costa Rica last week.

Focusing on the theme “Risk management for a prosperous future”, the World White Water Rafting Summit convened at the Costa Rica Convention Center and the Pacuare River from Oct. 8 to 11, 2019.

Rafting leaders from around the world and more than 200 national and international participants attended the Summit with the objective of exchanging knowledge about risks and safety and how to manage them to guarantee a successful future of rafting; about environmental risks that threaten rivers, like dams and climate change; about raft guide and commercial operator accreditation; about the importance of wilderness emergency and first aid training; about difficult topics like drugs and alcohol among guides and clients; about overcoming language barriers with international tourists; about the role of river guides in being changemakers; and about how to be good river stewards.

“This Summit is important for the international rafting industry because we are discussing and sharing information on issues such as risk management, safety, environmental conservation for rivers, the importance of clean water, reforestation, as well as training, education and certification of guides,” said Rafael Gallo, IRF Honorary President and event organizer.

The Summit, which was held under the auspices of the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), presented Costa Rica as a pioneer destination in rafting and at the forefront of adventure tourism.

“Rafting in Costa Rica enjoys international prestige as a sport and adventure tourism attraction. Costa Rica has been participating in world events since 1989 and has been the host of World Rafting Championships three times. But it is not a risk-free activity, so ICT is pleased that this World White Water Rafting Summit focused on risk management in our country. We strongly support it as a symbol of our institutional commitment for a safe tourism destination,” said María Amalia Revelo, Minister of Tourism in Costa Rica.

Presenters from 10 nations, including New Zealand, Finland, Mexico, United States, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and the United Kingdom, led engaging and interactive sessions during two days of the Summit. Notable experts included Joe Willis Jones, President of the International Rafting Federation and member of the Board of Directors; Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy Carlos Manuel Rodríguez; Ian Ponce, representative of the UN Climate Change Commission; Rafael Gallo, IRF Honorary President; and Monti Aguirre, Latin America Program Coordinator for International Rivers.

The IRF plans to now hold World White Water Rafting Summits every two years in different locations around the world. Since Costa Rica is leading the way on the initiative, the next Summit in 2021 will again be held in Costa Rica, said Gallo.

“An important message that we have left after this first meeting is that we need to unite to grow the industry,” Gallo added. “We must shorten the distance between each encounter. Between 1995 and 2015 there have been no worldwide rafting exchanges, and now we achieved it. At the close of this first Summit, we feel very satisfied because we met our goals; and we see the necessity to meet every two years going forward.”

Over 200 people take in the thrills and delights of the Pacuare River #OneWorldOneRiverOneFamily

Summit finale sees 200+ people rafting on the Pacuare River

The World White Water Rafting Summit 2019 closed in a huge finale on Oct. 11 with a massive symbolic rafting trip, entitled “One River, One World, One Family”, of more than 200 people on the renowned Pacuare River. The historic rafting trip united for the first time 16 rafting companies from all over Costa Rica, with 57 guides and 150 paddlers in 37 rafts and 12 kayaks, to send a message in favor of river conservation.

“The message we want to send with this first massive river navigation is that rafting can be done with passion, safety, and at the same time show that we can take care of the environment and have clean and free-flowing rivers,” said Rafael Gallo. “Rivers are the world’s arteries, and with this event we exemplify the symbolism that to move forward – to navigate – you have to work as a team.”

At the end of the big day, the Costa Rica National Alliance of Rivers and Watersheds presented the first edition of the “Rafael Gallo Palomo, Safeguarding the Future of our Rivers” award to the environmental organization Río Urbano (Urban Rivers) that is working to clean and protect rivers in the country’s capital region. The award pays homage to Rafael Gallo, pioneer in rafting and river conservation in Costa Rica, and is intended to recognize and stimulate environmental improvement for rivers and water sources around the country.

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