Every year, Casey Tango eagerly awaits the first signs of spring — not just for the warmer temperatures, but for the mountain snowmelt that fills Colorado’s rivers and streams. When runoff is at its highest, so begins Tango’s obsession with racing down Colorado’s toughest rapids in his lime green Dagger kayak.
As a water treatment technician at Foothills Water Treatment Plant — one of Denver Water’s three drinking water treatment plants — Tango works with water every day, running tests and monitoring plant operations to ensure safe water is delivered to 1.4 million people in the Denver metro area. But when it’s quitting time, he hops in his Subaru and races to Clear Creek to experience water in a more exciting fashion — whitewater kayaking.
“You’ll find me out kayaking at least five days a week in the spring and summer,” Tango said. “When I’m not out on the water, I’m reading kayak articles, doing research, watching videos and planning kayak trips. It’s really kind of an obsession.”
Tango, a longtime outdoor enthusiast, worked as a river guide for 10 years, taking groups down major rivers in Colorado, Arkansas, West Virginia and even Chile. So learning to kayak seemed like a natural fit. In 2004, Tango began teaching himself the ins and outs of kayaking, picking up some tips from a few friends who were also into the sport.
After more than a decade of kayaking, Tango can still remember his first time was out on the water. “I flipped for the first time and was able to turn myself back upright, so I was pretty excited. But, right after that, I flipped again and had to swim out of my kayak. You never can tell what’s going to happen.
“In the moment, you’re just focused on your technique and what you need to do to get back up. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t — that’s just the way it goes,” he said.
Tango recalls a particularly rough ride on Daisy Creek near Crested Butte, where he flew down a waterfall and crashed into a rock. “I was really shaken up, and when I got out I realized I had sprained both of my ankles.”
Despite his injuries, Tango wasn’t discouraged from taking on Daisy Creek again. “After a mistake, you learn what you need to do the next time. I know what to do in that spot now,” he said.
The more challenging the rapids, the better. Tango loves to take on tough rapids and waterfalls, exploring remote canyons and quiet coves, and discovering the world’s best whitewater. While the thrill of the ride is what keeps him going back for more — even after a nasty spill — safety is always on his mind.
“When the river’s high, we scout out the routes beforehand, so we know where the dangerous spots are and what we can do to get through them. It’s easier to see the tricky spots from up above than when you’re cruising down the river at full speed,” he said.
Near the end of the summer, when runoff starts to slow, Tango travels further into the mountains to find rivers and creeks suitable for kayaking. Thanks to stream flow information provided by the USGS, he can find the best spots for late-summer kayaking. “A lot of the water I paddle on is managed by Denver Water, and it’s actually thanks, in part, to Denver Water that I am informed about where to find out about streamflow, which helps me locate the best spots for late summer kayaking, when the rivers are low.”
“For instance, I know that after runoff season, I can head up to the North Fork of the South Platte near Bailey, Colo. to find deeper waters,” he said.
Should you find yourself hiking or fishing one of Denver Water’s streams or rivers this summer, keep your eyes open for Tango — he’ll be the one speeding by in the lime green kayak.