A kayaker and a camera
Photo by Darin McQuoid

Darin McQuoid has become one of the world's top river photographers. This picture, of Ben Stookesberry running a massive waterfall on the Talung River in India, shows where McQuoid's ability has taken him.

Darin McQuoid, who was born in Ashland, has become one of the best combination kayaker/photographers in the world. His ability run wild, remote rivers with a camera have provided a window into places few people will ever see.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

Darin McQuoid has slowly become the Ansel Adams of river photography.

The 29-year-old, who was born in Ashland and raised along the Scott River, has captured National-Geographic-quality images from thundering streams in Oregon and Northern California, along with Mexico, India, Pakistan, Japan and Africa.

McQuoid’s fame has risen from dual talents. His ability to kayak almost unthinkable Class V+ rapids provide him access to places on the river few will ever see. At the same time, his photographic eye has a knack for blending the high-intensity action of whitewater with the essential beauty of rivers.

“I think it’s an awesome combination — a kayaker photographer,” said Chris Korbulic, a Grants Pass High graduate and fellow kayaker. “There aren’t many people out there carrying a huge camera, running all that whitewater and getting those pictures.

“He definitely has a unique eye for making a place really pop and stand out.”

McQuoid and Korbulic are both members of the Eddie Bauer/First Ascent team that goes on expedition style trips to remote places such as Africa’s White Nile and Pakistan’s Indus River.

The process of taking pictures of such wild rivers is never easy. Along with braving the rapids, McQuoid also has to find ways of getting into the best position for a picture. That can mean scrambling, rappelling and climbing above the river on rock that is often slick as ice.

It doesn’t help that he’s scared of heights.

“I've often been more scared getting a shot than running the rapid,” said McQuoid, who now lives in Davis, Calif.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been exchanging e-mails with McQuoid.

In the question-and-answer below, he talks about kayaking, photography and the less-than-enjoyable experience of running a Class V river with diarrhea.

McQuoid documents his pictures and adventures on his website, which can be found here. The site has descriptions of more than 70 rivers in six different countries, including a database of just about every river and creek in Northern California.

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You’ve kayaked all over the world. What has been your most challenging experience?

The worst case was in Pakistan in 2008. The goal of our trip was the Rondu Gorge of the Indus River, just below Skardu, the last good sized town near K2 (the world’s second highest mountain).

Our first night in town a team member got sick, and then whatever it was spread through the group. I got it last and somehow the worst.

I was sick for two days straight, expelling everything from my body in lodgings that were just above freezing. After two days of throwing up and squatting over a hole (I don't miss those toilets!), I finally put on the hardest river I’d ever done.

The diarrhea took another week to go away, leading to some exciting moments of trying to exit a drysuit as quickly as possible. The river took us 11 days on the water, and is still the toughest river I've ever done.

When did you start taking photographs? What was the evolution from kayaker to photographer?

I bought a point-and-shoot camera the same year I started kayaking, in 2002. It amazed me how few images there were of the beautiful places that can be accessed in a kayak. I started out as a raft guide but really liked the easy logistics of kayaking. Photography and kayaking grew together, and I enjoy both equally.

Have you ever taken a swim and lost or damaged your equipment?

So far I've broken three lenses and one camera body. I've momentarily lost my camera bag on two swims. Once we found it in an eddy right below the drop, on the other occasion I found it a mile or two downstream. Got lucky on that one!

Has photography become a full-time job? Can it really become what we think of as a profession?

Somehow photography has become a full time job. Monetary sponsorship from Eddie Bauer/First Ascent and Jackson Kayak are just enough to get by on, and I shoot the occasional bit of other photography. I do three trips a year for Eddie Bauer/First Ascent.

But it is tough making money. It's a niche industry, and most businesses would rather use a mediocre free photo than pay for a good image.

What's the toughest part of whitewater photography?

It's getting the angle you want with the right light. Sometimes those things just don't line up between timing and what the river demands. It can take years to get lucky and have an overcast day so you aren't shooting into the sun in many spots.

How difficult is it getting in position for some of those shots?

I'm scared of heights so that doesn't help with climbing around above the river. (I’ve done some) rock climbing around waterfalls and I've often been more scared getting a shot than running the rapid.

The rock tends to be wet and slippery. I've had moments where I thought I couldn't come down what I just climbed up. Obviously still I'm here, but those are always stressful moments.

How much longer do you think you can do this?

I’ve been shooting and kayaking for almost 10 years now, and I’m turning the big 30 in December. I'd like to be able to keep going for quite a while, and thankfully, kayaking is mostly easy on the body.





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