The decision to go through guide school is a gateway to a whole new set of adventures. On top of a wide range of skill sets, it can open doors to close friendships, world-wide travels, and an amazing community. The skills that go into rafting whitewater span far beyond steering a boat downstream though. Many of those skills will come with time and practice, but here are some of the things that you’ll learn in guide school besides guiding.
Despite popular belief, water doesn’t just go straight downstream, and neither do rafts. Reading water simply means to figure out what it’s doing. Is that a friendly eddy-line or one we’d rather stay away from? Will those boils push off the rock or flip the boat? Which channel has the most water? Where will you get pushed in a swim? Once you’ve figured out what is going on, you can use that knowledge to pick the best possible path downstream. The more practice you have at reading water, the better you’ll get, and that will help you adapt as new things come into play. Instead of studying a rapid before you run it and picking a line, you’ll get better at reading the water as you’re moving downstream.
Part of guiding is learning to think in a different manner, balancing risk/reward ratios, making educated decisions, helping to educate others, and being aware of your surroundings, peers, and resources. While by no means a full river-rescue course, guide school begins to introduce these ideas and provides ways to practice in controlled environments. Some of the basics, like swimming rapids, throw bagging, and flipping boats back over are crucial to become comfortable with before you’re experiencing them in a situation where you’re responsible for others.
How to Style a Multi-Day Trip
Multi-day trips are the favorite part of life on the river for many guides. They combine boating through canyons that are otherwise inaccessible, camping in beautiful and remote places, and spending quality time with favorite people. Wet Planet’s guide school includes a 4-day trip on the Owyhee River in Oregon as a capstone to the course. It takes the skills learned on day trips and challenges you to maneuver a raft in a different manner as you try rowing, the art of rigging a raft, and cooking in a canyon while in the depths of the Grand Canyon of Oregon.
Mastering the Dutch Oven
Giani can cook anything in a dutch oven. We’d tell you our favorites, but frankly, whenever he pulls the lid off, we get a whiff of our new favorite. He’ll teach you his well-practiced ways on the guide school multi-day trip, from the recipes he’s mixing up to how often the lid needs to be turned for even cooking.
How to Smile when it’s Raining
Not every day is full of sunshine and warm air. As a guide, it is important to be prepared for everything – including subpar weather. You’ll notice that generally guides are a little overdressed, for the chance swim or rain storm. You’ll learn how to take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. People will look to you in a trying situation for cues of how to react. A big smile and good attitude can turn a rainstorm from a chilly event to a memorable experience, even with water coming from every direction.
Guiding is a fluid environment with dozens of things happening at any given moment. Recognizing what is going on, prioritizing, and choosing appropriate actions becomes second nature. You’ll know you’ve leveled up in your training when you can manage a boat and a throw bag at the same time.
Working as a Team
The river is not a place for independence or egos. Whitewater is much easier once you understand the crew you’re boating with and how to work as a team with them. We set support for each other at the bottom of rapids, learn personalities to match guides with their crews, coach one another, help each other off rocks and out of hard places, teach each other new skill sets, and encourage each other. We don’t ever take on the river alone, and it is so important to work together.
So Many Knots
If your motto is “don’t know knots, tie lots!” prepare to change your outlook. River people are knot nerds, relying on knots to serve specific functions and to stay where we need them. Get ready to wow your friends with your knotty prowess by the end of guide school, whipping out the perfect figure 8 or butterfly knot from the spare length of rope you’ll likely keep in your pocket for such occasions.
The Importance of Layers
Necessary for parfaits, the perfect grilled cheeses, and days in the outdoors. We’ve got a favorite layer for everything, from our Immersion Research guide shorts and hoodies on sunny days to our drysuits when it’s cooler, and literally everything in between. Likely one thing you’ll realize upon leaving guide school is that you don’t have nearly enough of them, and you now have a list a mile long of people’s favorites.
How Duct Tape is a Solution for Nearly Everything
Blister? Duct tape. Hole in your kayak? Duct tape. Labeling your gear? Duct tape. Tear in your drysuit? Duct tape. Flying T-grip? Duct tape (just kidding). While it might not cover everything in the typical first aid and repair kits, it makes for a pretty good quick-fix in many situations, and you can carry a bit of spare duct tape on your water bottle or paddle shaft for easy access.
How to love the River Like a Pro
River guides don’t just love the river – they have an active relationship with it. Watch closely the next time you’re on a rafting trip: the way your guide lights up talking about that one thing that happened at this one rapid; how stories come to life as they share the river’s history; the intimate way they know the currents; and on occasion, how they whisper sweetly to a handful of water before they push off from the bank. Few things will fire guides up like disrespecting the river, and most of our guides find ways to be advocates for river protection and education. Check out how the Wet Planet family is advocating for rivers by following Susan Elliott, Carson Lyness, and Brendan Wells’ current endeavors, or why Wet Planet is one of the driving forces behind the annual White Salmon River Fest.
Wet Planet’s guide school starts this spring on April 7th. Whether you want to acquire the skills to take your friends and family rafting, pursue a professional career in the outdoor industry as a commercial whitewater rafting guide, or simply spend a lot of time on the river, guide school is one of the best ways that you can spend your spring weekends. It begins with two weekends on classic PNW rivers, focusing on exposing aspiring guides to different types of whitewater and teaching paddling skills. On April 29th, we embark on a 4-day trip on the Owyhee River (water levels permitting). Reach out to us if you have questions, or sign up online today!