Whitewater rafting is scary.
The river’s power and force seem insurmountable. Human strength pales in comparison to water’s momentum when cascading down a mountain. Without technical knowledge and practice, descending even a class II river could cause serious harm, or even death, to rafters.
Whitewater rafting is also an extraordinary way humans can connect to their natural surroundings.
Rivers form pathways into otherwise inaccessible regions. A natural roller coaster ride, rafting down whitewater combines excitement, beauty, action, adventure, friendship, challenge and peace in one activity.
The difference: knowledge, practice, and a strong sense of adventure.
But how can a curious beginner learn the techniques and rescue skills to prevent a dangerous situation on the river?
Since professional raft guides face the challenges of whitewater every day, they are an invaluable resource for new rafters. Whether looking to work on the river, lead personal raft trips with friends and family, or simply experience whitewater from a different perspective, a guide school can help anyone learn the art of whitewater rafting.
Reading the River
A primary focus of most guide schools is learning to read water. Rafters learn to look at the water’s path and detect different currents, flows and features. Soon, bends in the river, buried rock piles and steep ledges become evident from upstream.
Reading the water allows rafters to develop a plan, using the river’s features to descend the rapid smoothly. Most guide schools will work on multiple rivers to allow for students to see and experience a variety of whitewater. Rivers with less volume will provide more practice for tight and technical maneuvers while rivers with more flow can teach a rafter to use the current to their advantage.
While using safety precautions and good judgment can prevent accidents most of the time, emergencies on the river still occur. A whitewater guide school will practice effective rescue techniques during hands-on scenarios. Participants will get practice swimming through rapids, extracting a pinned raft, and using the throw bag and other rescue equipment properly.
River Communication Skills
Rafters use a unique set of signals to effectively communicate to each other while on the river. Guide school students will learn where and when to use these signals.
Good communication can prevent accidents as well as help the team, or group of rafters, to move as a unit. Rafters learn to teach their guests proper paddling strokes, without turning into drill sergeants.
Specific Paddling Techniques
Mostly, guide schools will give participants time to practice maneuvering a raft through whitewater. Using the right strokes–forward, draw, or J-strokes for example–a rafter can move effortlessly through a seemingly chaotic rapid. Guide schools often advertise a specific number of hours the participants can expect to practice on the water.
The Flow of Multi-Day Raft Trips
Some guide schools include a multi-day rafting trip. Students have the rare opportunity to learn from professionals how to smoothly lead an overnight river trip. From rigging a raft to paddling an oar-frame, these programs dive deeper into the art of whitewater rafting and often encompass a broader spectrum of skills.
While descending a classic stretch of river, guides share their own secrets and knowledge all day long. Learning tricks from the professionals can turn your own 5 day trip on the river into a dream vacation. Additionally, these trips are often at significant discounts from a normal commercial multi-day river trip.
Becoming a Professional River Guide
Most whitewater raft guide positions require formal whitewater training. States often have specific guidelines for working on the river, in addition to a company’s particular prerequisites for employment. Most new river guides will find positions on easier, class I-III rivers, allowing them to build their skills before working on class IV/V rivers.
Many companies also require CPR and First-Aid certifications. It is recommended that private boaters also stay current with these certifications, as emergency situations can arise at any time on the river.
To get an advantage over other applicants, a new raft guide can also take a Whitewater Rescue Technician course, or Swiftwater course. This certificate shows an outfitter your commitment to safety on the water, as well as make you eligible for increased pay.
Learning to safely tackle a whitewater river from professionals can turn a dangerous sport into an exciting, life long passion. Suddenly, doors open to allow travel deep into the outdoors to discover some of the world’s most pristine wilderness. Taking the time to attend a formal whitewater guide school can rapidly increase confidence and skill levels of new rafters.