The remit of the International Relations Committee is to promote rafting in all nations.

Bylaw 49 - International Relations Committee
  1. The International Relations Committee is charged with advancing ARTICLE 5, Section 2 of the Bylaws, and shall serve as consultants to the IRF Board of Directors and the IRF Executive Committee on all IRF policies and decisions that are related to International Relations.
  2. The International Relations Committee shall be appointed by the IRF Executive Committee and the Committee Chair.
  3. The Chair of the International Relations Committee shall be a duly elected member of the IRF Board of Directors who has experience in developing policy and directing issues related to international relations.
  4. The International Relations Committee shall submit proposals and budgets for the development of International Relations.
Bylaw Annexes to Article 49

The International Relations Committee will be responsible for the following areas of concern:

  1. Organise the work of recruiting new IRF Member Organisations.
  2. Prepare and guide the IRF towards membership in strategic international umbrella sports organisations.
  3. Develop relationships between the IRF and other international sports organisations, and further the expansion of IRF influence and recognition. This may include attending general meetings in affiliated international organisations, writing official letters/emails, and meeting with IOC, Sport Accord, or other umbrella sports organisation representatives.
  4. Work towards having rafting be accepted as an IOC recognised sport.
  5. Research and prepare statistics on competitive and recreational rafting around the world.

Committee members:

Peter Micheler

Peter Micheler (Chair)

Read more

International Relations Committee - Chair

Peter Micheler

  • Chair of International Relations Committee
  • President (1997 – 2006)
  • GTE Instructor Grade 4
  • Chief Judge

Peter Micheler, the founder and managing director of RTA, is one the most successful Slalom Kayak paddlers World Wide.  From 1977-1988 he was a national team member and won several world championship and World Cup titles. In the 80’s he was eight times German Champion in the Kayak Men’s class (1980-1988).  And still an unequalled performance to date.  In total 8 medals World(cup) – and European championships, 13 German championships, and in addition innumerable victories in international competitions.

At the end of his career as a Kayak paddler he dedicated himself completely to Rafting. Together with his former sport comrades in the Kayak Slalom and present guides of RTA he won the European Championships three times in a row (’92 – ’94), became five times vice-world champion and in 1997 gold medal winners at the World Nature Games in Brazil. In 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 he was in the team that was German Rafting Champion.

He was a founding member of the International Rafting Federation 1997 and has been a member of the Board of Directors since then. He led the IRF for 9 years as the President and was a Vice-President for some time too.

Rafael Gallo Honorary President

Rafael Gallo

Read more

International Relations Committee

Rafael Gallo

  • Honorary President
  • President (2006 – 2013)
  • Vice President (1997 – 2006)
  • Chair of Board of Directors
  • GTE Assessor
  • Chief Judge

Commending his decades of involvement, achievements, and integral role in the formation and development of the International Rafting Federation (IRF), Rafael Gallo was nominated as the first Honorary President of the IRF.

The new position was proposed by the current IRF President Joe Willis Jones, and approved by the IRF Board of Directors as an annex to the IRF Bylaws.  The annex states that “The (IRF) Congress may bestow the title of ‘Honorary President’, or ‘Honorary Member’, respectively, upon any former President or member of the Executive Committee for meritorious service to rafting and the IRF … Honorary Presidents shall primarily serve as an IRF Ambassador.” The nomination of Mr. Gallo will be considered for ratification at the IRF Congress in March 2019 in Australia during the next World Rafting Championships.

President Jones is pleased to have the honour of nominating Mr. Gallo in recognition for his years of commitment and service. “Everyone who takes part in rafting sport today is beholden to the dedication and effort of those that worked to create it.  Rafa’s years of service to rafting and to the IRF put us all in his debt. Without Rafa, it is likely that the IRF would not exist.”

Gallo is one of the original founders of the IRF. He served as the IRF’s first Vice-president, alongside President Peter Micheler, from 1997 to 2006, and then took over the IRF presidency from 2006 to 2013. Gallo has helped improve rafting safety rules and guide training around the world. He was also one of the first assessors for the IRF, which is the highest level for river guide training certification that allows him to certify instructors, who in turn can certify rafting guides.

“As a founding member of the IRF, Rafa was very integral to waking everyone up to the need for an international governing body for rafting. He has been a strong component of the IRF since it was created and having him as an Honorary President will ensure that the IRF can continue to benefit from his years of experience in the international rafting world,” said Sue Liell-Cock, IRF Secretary General.

“It feels great to have become part of innovation in the rafting world through my whitewater rafting company, Rios Tropicales, in Costa Rica, and become such a leader. I feel lucky to have been in that historic era at the beginning and had the opportunity to lead such an important organisation as the IRF with so many people from around the globe. It was a joining of minds from all over the world,” said Gallo. “The IRF has brought rafting to a more competitive level. You see people striving to be athletes and not just river guides, and they love rafting,” he added.

How the IRF began
Starting with the first Project RAFT event held on the Chuya River in Siberia during the 1989 Chuya Rally, people came from all over the world for the first time to compete together in river rafting.  Called “Russians and Americans for Teamwork”, the project was initiated by Russian and American rafters to override the political animosity between the two nations at the time, and to join together in the sport of rafting. The Chuya Rally proved to be a catalyst event that changed the world of rafting forever because of the contacts made and the friendships forged.

President Jones recalls first meeting Gallo at the Chuya Rally where they both participated as rafting athletes representing their respective countries. “Rafa and I became fast friends and he invited me to Costa Rica to work as a river guide and guide trainer for his newly-formed rafting company. The ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle of Costa Rica and the Project Raft ethos was fully merged at Rios Tropicales, and it attracted some of the best river guides in the world to work a season or two with Rafa’s company. ”

This first “World Rafting Championship” was replicated in 1990 on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, in 1991 on the Reventazón and Pacuare Rivers in Costa Rica, and on the Coruh River in Turkey in 1993. After that, it evolved into the Camel Whitewater Challenge from 1995 to 2001.

As international rafting competitions grew, drawing up to 50 teams to compete in Slalom and Down River events, there became a need for an official body that could represent and unite the various international rafting interests.

It was at the 1994 World Championship hosted on the Dora Baltea River in Italy that Rafael Gallo and Peter Micheler saw the necessity to form an international rafting organisation that could represent all competitors, guides, and aspects of rafting. “People were having a lot of fun competing against one another but it needed to be organised much better,” said Gallo.  “Everyone showed up to this World Rafting Championship and discovered there were no set rules. It was very chaotic. The rafts were different sizes, the rules kept changing along the way, and the organisers had no clear idea as to how to run an event.  We knew if international raft competition was going to survive, we needed to change the model and implement an organisational structure and rules for raft racing.”

The founding group – Lee Porter, Peter Micheler, Rafael Gallo, Tony Hansen, Sue Liell-Cock, Neil Baxter, Glenn Lewman, Zeljko Kelemen and Thomas Karas – met in 1997 at the Augsburg Eiskanal in Augsburg, Germany – Micheler’s home base and site of the 1972 Summer Olympics’ canoe slalom event. There, they drafted the first raft race rules and organisation statutes, and in October of that year the IRF was officially launched at the 1997 Camel White Water Challenge (CWWC) event.

The first official IRF World Championship – run jointly with the CWWC – was held in Costa Rica in 1998 on the Class 5 section of the Reventazón River, hosted by Gallo and Rios Tropicales. This is where the rules to govern raft racing were finalized. Later, in 2001, the IRF World Championships separated from the CWWC.

20 Years of Success with the IRF
As the IRF competitions developed, so did the need to create a universal training system for raft guiding.

In 1999, at the IRF World Championship on the Orange River in South Africa, where Gallo acted as the first chief judge of an IRF event, he was involved in creating a guide training and education system that would be compatible for river rafting anywhere in the world.

“We wanted to create a method of assessing and certifying the basic skills and knowledge that a rafting guide should have,” Gallo said. “We adopted it right away in 1999 with our guides in Costa Rica.”

Gallo again was chief judge for the IRF World Championships in 2005 in Ecuador and in 2007 in South Korea. He hosted a second IRF World Championship in Costa Rica in 2011 which was the first ever Carbon Neutral World Championship in any sport.

“By this time, IRF competitions were not festivals. They were full of pro athletes. People were training, getting sponsors and taking it very seriously,” said Gallo. “It was great. We were accomplishing our objective to create a world-class competition. We were already positioning ourselves to get rafting into the Olympics.”

In 2009, Gallo was inducted into the International Whitewater Hall of Fame for being an advocate for conservation and a leader in river rafting in the world.

The future of the IRF
“Having ambassadors around the world is very valuable to promote the IRF and put it forward in the right places. The IRF Committees can turn to Rafael for advice and assistance in areas where his knowledge or expertise can assist,” said Liell-Cock.
“For me, becoming an honorary president is a great way to continue participating in the future of the IRF,” noted Gallo. “With 20-plus years of experience, I can be a mentor who has ‘been there and done that’ to help the new leaders who are guiding the rafting world as it is growing and growing.”

Joe Willis Jones

Joseph Willis Jones

Read more

International Relations Committee

Joseph Willis Jones

  • President
  • Chair of Board of Directors
  • GTE Assessor / Trainer
  • General Judge

Joseph Willis Jones, or “Joe Willie” as he is known to his friends,  serves as President and Chairman of the Board of the IRF and has held past positions with the IRF Board of Directors as co-Head of Sport and Competition and as Head of the Pan American Race Committee.

Mr. Jones is an IRF Judge, and an Assessor/Trainer for the IRF Guide Training and Education Program. He has a long and distinguished career as a whitewater adventurer, guide, explorer, competitor, instructor and coach. For more than 40 years, he has run hundreds of rivers spanning every continent, and led scores of multi-day wilderness trips to some of the most remote locations on the planet; from the Arctic regions of Alaska and Canada, to Patagonia, the Amazon, Central America, Oceania, Asia, Europe and Africa. He has also served as a consultant and river expert on several feature films and documentaries.

Raised in the mountains of the southeastern United States, he discovered and fell in love with river-running as a boy. After teaching himself how to run whitewater in an open canoe, arming himself with river guidebooks and the fearlessness of youth, he began to test the limits of the sport by targeting rivers that publications cautioned as being ‘unrunnable’ in canoes – an experience which led to his pioneering many first open canoe descents.

When commercial rafting exploded in the eastern USA during the mid 1970’s, his river experience gave him instant work as a raft guide where he realised that he could make a living pursuing his passion. At the same time, he began competing in and winning many regional open canoe wildwater and marathon races.

In 1981, lured by the images and stories of big western whitewater, he moved to western USA where his skills won him employment with numerous rafting companies on ‘classic rivers of the West’. He soon formed his own rafting business and paddling school, while continuing to rack up first descents with canoe and raft on many steep creeks and rivers of California, Oregon and Washington.

As an avid rock climber and rescue squad firefighter, he began to experiment and adapt climbing equipment, climbing knots and professional rescue techniques to aid in equipment recovery and swimmer rescue; and to teach these methods in his classes, to University paddling clubs, and to other river guides long before river rescue instruction became commonly available.

Gaining a reputation as one of the top whitewater boaters in the USA, he was invited to join a number of cutting-edge exploratory river expeditions in the USA, Asia and South America.

Topping the list in 1985 was a ‘yet to be repeated ‘ first raft descent through the Class V+ Grand Canyon of the Stikine tucked away deep in the wilderness of British Columbia, Canada. The Stikine proved to be one of the toughest sections of whitewater in the world, considered by many today to be the ‘Mount Everest’ of big water expedition paddling against which all other rivers are measured.

With a whetted appetite, this became the first of many paddling adventures in the far North – he spent years exploring the rivers of Alaska and the Yukon as well as taking adventure seeking tourists in rafts, canoes and sea kayaks to some of the most remote rivers and sea coasts on the planet.

In 1989 he was invited to Siberia by Project RAFT to compete for the USA in the first international raft competition, where he was part of an event that changed rafting forever by sparking international raft competitions around the world. Project RAFT was a citizen diplomacy initiative to ease tensions between the Soviet Union and the USA by putting Russians and Americans in the same boat on raging whitewater rivers. This led to additional international competitions which launched the formation of the International Rafting Federation. He continued to compete internationally for several years before focusing his energies once again on commercial guiding and river exploration in Central and South America.

Mr. Jones was awarded the prestigious Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal as part of a team that completed a grueling six-week scientific exploration of a little-known tributary of the Amazon, deep in the Brazilian jungle, and in 2013 he was honored by being selected as one of the founding members of the World Paddle Awards Academy,  a unique association of the greatest living paddle sports legends and figureheads in the world.

Now a permanent resident of Chile, Mr. Jones lives with his wife and son where he operates an eco-adventure tourism (and rafting) business with his extended Chilean family. He coaches and manages the gold medal winning Chilean national rafting team, and is heavily involved with organisations fighting to protect several rivers in Chile threatened by hydroelectric projects.

Sue Liell-Cock

Sue Liell-Cock

Read more

International Relations Committee

Sue Liell-Cock

  • Secretary General

Sue did her first river trip after getting a BSc in Computer Science and Geographical Science and discovering the normal working life was not for her. She was immediately hooked and became a river guide. Later she became part owner of a river company in South Africa. She was a founding member of the South African Rivers Association (now APA) and played a key role in its initial organisation. 

She was one of the first female guides in South Africa and has done much to promote women in this sport. In 1992 and 1993 she was a part of the Hunter’s Gold Ladies team which paddled in the Zambezi River Festival – in 1992 they were the only women’s team which, despite predictions from certain men that they’d need to be helicopter rescued out, came a respectable 16th out of 31 teams. She attended Project RAFT in Turkey 1993 as part of the African team.

From 1995 to 2001 she worked with Tony Hansen organising the Camel White Water Challenge (CWWC). She was a founding member of the IRF in 1997 and through her work with the CWWC found herself in a pivotal role for the future of rafting. She has been key in its administration and forward movement ever since.  Her experience as a guide, river company owner, competitor, event organiser, administrator and mum are all used in this role.

In 2001 Sue had the first of her two sons. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

Committee member no photo

Jakob Faerch

Sean Clarke

Sean Clarke