Introduction To White Water Rafting

Whitewater rafting takes you through stunning sceneries, thrilling adrenaline rush, ferocious running waters and an overall awe-inspiring adventure. The sport no doubt goes as one of the best if you are looking to pit your wits with other adventurous outdoor sports lovers in rocky waters. But as petrifying as white water rafting might sound, the fact that you won’t necessarily be piloting affairs alone is real douser. Having others take the cruise relieves any worries and lets you get the most satisfaction as you paddle along while glimpsing past enthralling creatures and sounds. But just how did white water rafting begin? What gear do you need and what safety measures are a must? Let’s find out all you need to know on these and more in this article.

The History of Whitewater rafting

Whitewater rafting has a rich history dating back to more than two centuries ago. Its origin can be traced to the first navigation attempt in Wyoming’s Snake River which occurred in 1811. With no prior experience, training or expertise in water rafting, combined with the unavailability of word class safety equipment, the unchartered territory was a real scare for adventurers .This eventually culminated in the river being renamed the “Mad River”. However, white water rafting slowly gained traction in ensuing years.

It is believed that the first rubber raft was eventually designed by Horace H. Day and Lt. John Fremont around the 1840s in their bid to explore the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. While the invention of the rubber raft may have occurred decades before, the first known commercial rafting trip was recorded in 1940. The trip opened the floodgate, as a refurbished resort hotel began to offer float trips to adventure seekers afterwards.

With many more people becoming interested in the sport, you’ll expect more whitewater rafting companies to enter the fray, and so they did in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these companies emerged, and the sports massive enthusiasts meant it was included for the first time ever in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.  The International Rafting Federation was eventually formed in 1997.

The sport has since gone on to become an integral part in the checklist of every water sports lover, especially in the winter months and all year round.

Things to look out for when going Whitewater rafting

The adrenaline spike and camaraderie thrills that come when with whitewater rafting can be cut short abruptly if safety measures are not put in place. So making sure that all precautions are taken is what you want. Before getting all frenzy on the waters, be sure to looking out for the following dangers.

  1. Drowning

Yeah! that’s an obvious one. Water and drowning are a likely tag team, and more so when you go whitewater rafting in turbulent waters. Drowning may occur when individuals fall out as rafts flip over. Although you will likely be putting on a life jacket to make floating easier in the unlikely event that you trip over, you shouldn’t get overly confident with it since whitewater flows with such overpowering force greater than the protective buoyancy conferred by a life jacket.

  1. Cold water concerns

Whitewater rafting is more fancied during cold winter months. Combine this with the fact that whitewater comes from spring runoff, snowmelt, and reservoir bottoms and you should expect frigging cold temperatures during your adventure. This can be a concern if you have issues with overly hypothermic environments. So if that’s the case, adventuring whitewaters in milder summer months may be a better option.

  1. Overexertion is another risk

Overexertion may not come to mind when thinking of white water rafting risks. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is believed that most deaths during the adventure occur due to overexertion of some sort. As a result, if you are not in top shape or have problems diving into an intriguing but equally scary adventure, whitewater rafting may not be for you. Combine this with poor swimming skills and chances are high of falling and getting drowned. As cardiac arrests arguably lead the pack in whitewater rafting deaths, ensure you have no problems and you should have the all clear to go rafting your favourite white waters.

  1. Rock collisions

Collisions resulting in smacking or smashing any part of the body can result in varying degrees of injuries, and in some cases, death. This is why whitewater rafting demands immense safety checks. Apart from colliding against rocks, white water rafting accidents can also occur while still in the raft, for example in cases where another member inadvertently hits a flailing paddle in your direction. While moving at great speeds is a real thriller, you also want to exercise great care to keep everyone safe.

  1. You may get stuck in river features

From holes to rocks and downed trees, there are more than a handful of obstacles that will likely come your way when white water rafting. Given the inherent nature of these river features, it takes more than enough paddling skills to manoeuvre problems that may occur. You also need to look ahead keenly and ensure you paddle away from dangerous obstacles when on cold white waters. If you are a beginner and stuck in river features, expert help may not be easily available, making it all the more important to take on safer waters when going white water rafting.

White Water Rafts

One of the first things to obviously include in your whitewater gear is a water raft. And thankfully, there are many of those to choose from. Whitewater rafts can come in varying sizes, you’ll want one that will provide all the convenience and safety you need on turbulent waters. There are rafts designed for a single user. Average whitewater rafts are made for 6 paddlers with a guide sitting at the back. However, if you will be going in a much larger group, feel free to explore those that can accommodate 12 people or more.

Rafts used on white waters should be suitable designed to veer off stealthily from rocks. So, many rafts are usually made of urethane or similar synthetic materials that aid flexibility in easily slipping over rocks. For more protection, whitewater rafts come with varying types of inflatable chambers which ensures that you still have something to float on in the unlikely event that one chamber gets punctured.

Whitewater rafts look alike in design, having an upturned nose and tail. There are a number of inflatable thwarts or tubes used by paddlers as seats; the thwarts can also be used as a platform to jam their feet. Front paddlers usually make use of foot loops that are fixed to the floor of the raft.

Whitewater rafting guide

A guide is obviously necessary when going white water rafting as they provide the much-needed experience in traversing dangerous conditions. Guides are usually provided with a longer extra paddle or two for safe navigation down the river. They are also responsible for informing other paddlers of rapids as well as tips on paddling through them. Whitewater paddlers on the other hand have shorter paddles, but work in synergy to make sure the raft is propelled in the desired direction.

Are there requirements for tour group members?

No worries if your team is made up of first-time paddlers since most tour groups have a guide to direct proceedings on the water. However, rapids are graded, and class 4 rapids are usually considered suitable for paddlers with a decent rafting experience. A staggering 300 calories or more could be burned within an hour, so you’ll want to ensure your health is equally up for it before going white water rafting. In addition to wearing a life jacket, knowing how to get into defensive swim position can be a lifesaver. To do this, simply lie on your back and keep your feet pointing downstream but floating near the surface of the water to protect yourself from smacking against the rocks.

Whitewater rafting classification

As there are different types of rivers and rapids differ, depending on how fast the river flows, it’s important to know what classification a river belongs before rafting on it. The grading of rivers is done by the International Scale of River Difficulty. The association classifies rivers into 6, with class 1 rivers being the least dangerous and class 6 considered most dangerous. Here’s more on the classes of rapids available to white water paddlers:

Class I: Waters in Class I are usually fast moving and have only few obstructions. They are therefore perfect for first time white water paddlers.

Class II: Class II waters are more advanced and have more obstructions than Class I. The rapids are straightforward with wide and clear channels. Although there are obstacles here, they are not overly difficult to manoeuvre for the novice paddler.

Class III: Class III rivers have moderate rapids with irregular waves that can be overwhelming for the novice to catch up with. As the currents are much more powerful and manoeuvring through these waters requires more expertise, Class III rivers are only suitable for the intermediate whitewater paddler.

Class IV: This is where things get even trickier. Class IV white waters are full of intense rapids. And while the rapids are predictable, they need to be manoeuvred much faster and require great expertise. Paddlers also stand moderate to high-risk chances of sustaining injuries as there are many obstacles, holes, large waves, and narrow shoots to contend with. Suitable for advanced paddlers.

Class V: Before paddling on Class V waters, you’ll need the best of gear, have extensive expertise and be ready to take on extremely violent rapids with equally complex routes. In-depth knowledge of rescue skills is important since risk of injury is very high and it can be difficult to make instant rescue efforts.

Class VI: The toughest, most demanding and challenging rapids await Class VI paddlers. Errors should be non-existent as injuries can take different dimensions and lead to untold consequences since rescue is virtually impossible in these waters. Only experts get the nod to go white water rafting here. However, as paddlers consistently run on the rapids, Class VI Rivers can become quite manageable.

White Water Rafting Equipment

Whitewater rafting can be a dangerous adventure, so safety equipment are a must-have if you have to go paddling. While a boat and paddle are obvious gear to carry along, a life jacket and a number of other equipment are necessary. Thankfully, most of them are usually made available by the boating facility. But if you decide to have your personal kit, the following should not be left out in your checklist.

  1. Footwear

It’s going to be frigging cold when paddling white waters, and so a handy footwear is one you want to cash in on for a comfortable experience. Spare trainers or wet boots may not do a bad job here but there are also other options to consider. Whichever you decide to go with, you want to ensure your rafting footwear is firm, with good traction on slippery environments and can confer protection from all river assaults.

  1. Wetsuit

Although this might not be necessary if you will be white water rafting in tropical regions, wetsuits can be incredibly useful in other windy environments. Your choice should be thick enough to provide enough warmth but obviously not one that would ruin your comfort when paddling.

  1. Sunscreen

It can get scorching hot in later parts of the day. To prevent sunburns and unwanted marks, include a sunscreen in your gear, especially if you will be having a full day white water rafting.

  1. Helmet

Hitting the rocks is all too likely in stormy and rocky white waters, so latch onto a helmet designed for water use. Your ideal helmet is one with bright colours that can easily be spotted if it falls over. Tick all these safety measures and you should be set to take on the ravaging whitewater thrills as they come.

Check out our reviews of good white water rafting shoes.