There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as the boiling maelstrom of towering waves, boat-swallowing holes, and spraying foam that is Class V whitewater.
And thanks to near-record snowpack across the great ranges of the West, this whitewater-rafting season promises to be the wildest in decades.
You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Even grizzled river runners like Bruce Lavoie, a 13-year veteran with international outfitter O.A.R.S., thinks twice before paddling into a rapid. “I’m pretty afraid of whitewater,” Lavoie says matter-of-factly.
In his career, he’s fallen overboard or capsized 30-plus times. “Anytime I’m out of my boat and in the river, I know there are real consequences,” he says.
So, if you don’t want to end up under the current, follow the tips below for surviving even the most savage boat-eating rapids.
1. Hire an outfitter
If you’re tackling rapids bigger than Class I/II, go with a pro. Each river has its own personality—slower at water sections, boulder-choked Class V runs—so if you’re not a master rafter, don’t go out Deliverance-style with no guide. You remember what happened there…
2. Brace yourself
Survival is 90% staying in the boat. Plant yourself with three balance points: Tuck your front foot under the air tube in front of you (front paddlers use footholds). Sit on the raft’s outer rim. And use your paddle as a brace by paddling harder in heavy whitewater.
3. Go overboard well
If you fall into a rapid and can’t grab a raft line to haul yourself in, swim on your back with your feet pointed downstream so you can push off of rocks. Never stand up. “It’s pretty exciting that you’re in control of your own fate out there,” says Lavoie. Um, yeah.