The Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA) is proud to sponsor the Costa Rica Youth Rafting Team, carrying forward Rafael Gallo’s legacy of rafting for conservation.
“We chose to sponsor the Costa Rica Youth Rafting Team because they are a pivotal part of the community in the Pacuare region. They are the next generation of rafting athletes working in conservation to protect the Pacuare River,” said RAFA Co-director Roberto Gallo. “My father, Rafa Gallo, believed in this team and their potential and helped them get started. For them to raft under the RAFA name gives them an even greater purpose to represent his legacy.”
“They represent the ideals and qualities that RAFA strives for in sustainability and conservation. It is a perfect match for these youth, based in the Pacuare River region, to be community liaisons for conservation as RAFA ambassadors,” Gallo added. “In fact, one of our goals in the coming year is to unite all the Pacuare River rafting companies, lodges, and neighboring towns in environmental practices and conservation, and the team will be a big help with that.”
Team members Marcelo Omodeo, Enrique Segura, Andrei Araya, Jose Contreras, Joaksene Bustos, Sergio Jimenez, and Juan Diego Contreras have been paddling together for about five years. In their mid to late teens, when they began, the team’s ages presently range from 20 to 23, and they compete as a six-man team in the Under-23 category at international rafting competitions. Team member Juan Diego Contreras, now over the age limit, helps the group with training. Their coach is Marlon Bustos Araya, also from the team’s hometown of Turrialba, who has competed for years on the men’s Costa Rica Rafting team at International Rafting Federation (IRF) world championships.
The Costa Rica Youth Rafting Team has so far participated in four international competitions: the 2018 IRF World Rafting Championship in Argentina, where they won a silver medal in the Sprint; the 2019 IRF World Rafting Championship in Australia, where they earned a silver medal in the Head-to-Head competition and a bronze in the Downriver; and in the first and second Rafting for Peace Festivals in Colombia in 2019 and 2021.
“The opportunity for these young men to put on jerseys with the name RAFA was the same as putting a gold medal around their necks. They were smiling from ear to ear and for them to carry this honor is quite humbling,” said Tom Ranieri, team manager and owner of the Pacuare Outdoor Center. “It also allows them to see beyond competition since they know they are paddling for more than a medal. They are now paddling for everything that Rafa Gallo stood for.”
“It’s the love for rafting as a tool for conservation and peace that makes being a part of the Rivers and Forests Alliance so special for these young men and all of us involved,” said Ranieri.
Team member Sergio Jimenez agreed, “For our team, it is a great honor and pride, and at the same time a responsibility, to join with the Rivers and Forests Alliance. It gives us such a great feeling, hope, and inspiration. We know that we are part of a legacy that Rafael Gallo instilled in many people. To be part of that is a joy and a privilege.”
Team member Andrei Araya echoed that sentiment. “Rafa Gallo was a pioneer of rafting in Costa Rica and a lover of nature and, like him, we as young people want to continue his legacy and share it with future generations. He believed in our team and gave us a passion for rafting, nature, and protecting rivers,” he said. “We were a rafting team that has represented our country with pride. Now, we are a rafting team dedicated to the sport of rafting and protecting and conserving the Pacuare River. We will continue the vision and mission of don Rafa. Carrying his name in our hearts and wearing it on our jerseys inspires us to achieve our goals as a team.”
The team is currently training to compete in the 2022 IRF World Rafting Championship in Bosnia in late May/early June. “We are looking forward to the World Rafting Championship in Bosnia,” said team member Marcelo Omodeo. “We want to show to the world what RAFA’s name means, that you can be an adventure lover and also a nature lover.”