10 words to help you understand whitewater lingo

Learning a new sport is as much a cultural endeavor as a physical one. Navigating through the paddling social scene in particular can be bizarre and challenging because though some words overlap, the sport hasn’t ingrained itself into the general American everyday culture like surfing or skiing have.

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With that, here are 10 words to get you started on mingling with other whitewater boaters. The rest will follow.


Noun: Someone whose skill typically doesn’t match the rivers they paddle, resulting in that person getting beat down and swimming a lot, usually in a comical way.

Verb: Beatering, beatered; to really mess up a move. Can also be something embarrassingly easy compared to the skill level of the paddler.

Getting worked

Verb: Typically used when the boater is stuck in a retentive hydraulic, either while in the boat or swimming.

Go boating

To “go boating” is the term for kayaking or canoeing down whitewater-specific rivers or creeks. This example is from the Gatineau River in Quebec, Canada. Photo: Charli Kerns
Verb: This refers only to whitewater. One doesn’t go boating in the ocean; one kayaks or sometimes just paddles. This is the only form in which the word is used (e.g., there is no “to boat” or “boated”).

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Bootie beer

After swimming on the Tewkesbury in Canada, Marie-Eve and Holly paid their dues with some cheap Quebec beer. Photo: Charli Kerns
Noun: The penalty for swimming. Pour beer into your river shoe and chug. It’s historically been used to punish paddlers who have no float bags in their kayaks, which causes a lot of problems for those friends trying to rescue the kayak as it sinks.


A photo posted by David Fusilli (@davefusilli) on

Adjective: A term used by the paddling community to describe a perfect, cherished run, used mainly among the Pacific Northwest paddling crew. Example: “The Little White Salmon River in Washington State is church.”

Hair boater

A photo posted by Pat Keller (@patkeller1) on

Noun: A highly skilled paddler who’s addicted to paddling extremely hard and dangerous, sometimes sketchy, whitewater rivers, often pushing the overall limits of both skill and sanity in the sport.

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Noun: This word has two definitions. The first (and literal) meaning is an obstruction, usually rocks, that water flows through and around. The opening to this rock jumble is underwater, and a boat or person can flow into, but usually not out of, the siphon. These are extremely dangerous.

The second definition is a potential significant partner who doesn’t paddle and keeps someone from paddling via guilt or anger. Like the literal siphon, paddlers who get stuck with a significant other who’s a siphon are usually gone from the paddling community. These are also extremely dangerous.

Brown claw

Noun: The brown claw originated with a group of pro kayakers called Demshitz (and others) referring to super full-on whitewater as “the brown,” which means “sh-t.” The brown-claw gesture derives from them figuratively handling a bag of sh-t. Inventive, we know.

The boating community overall has picked up the gesture, but most people don’t use it while boating, instead referencing something awesome.

Chasing rain

Verb: After a big rain event in the area, paddlers will figure out which rivers got enough rain to flow high enough to paddle.

In this instance, because rivers and creeks will flood and then go back down, the paddlers have to chase after the flow before it gets too low to paddle on again and they’re forced to wait for another rain event.

Dawn patrol

Loading up the boats with snow on the ground. Can’t help but think, “Really?” Photo: Charli Kerns
Noun: When paddlers are trying to head to the river before dawn so that by the time the logistics are set and everyone has donned their gear, it’s light enough to get on the water and paddle.

Dawn patrol is usually, though not always, done by those who have to be somewhere right afterward.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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