Know Before You Go: White Water Rafting

Know Before You Go: White Water Rafting

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Jonesing for some wet n' wild exercise that's a little more extreme than a dip in the pool? Consider hitting some bubbly rapids. Adventure tourism - activities that involve an element of risk plus water, heights, or extreme speeds - is the perfect fit for adrenaline junkies. But if bungee jumping or ejecting yourself from a plane seems a bit too extreme, then try out beginner-friendly white water rafting. Here's what to expect from that first white water run.

Arts and Rafts - The Need-to-Know

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When we say raft, we don't mean one like Tom Hanks fashioned in Castaway. We're talking about an inflatable vessel that cuts through rushing streams and whips around doom-impending boulders. The mission: Propel and maneuver the raft with a paddle through varying grades of rapids. While an expert instructor takes on the brunt of the work, the team-focused exercise also amps strength and endurance levels for all rafters (usually eight per raft). Just a few hours scaling turbulent waters can burn some serious energy (over 300 calories per hour, on average), and work the arms, abs, and core. Frank Mooney, a river guide for over 20 years, says those shoulders and hips might also be a little sore after a day on the river. Adventurers may reap the benefit of some mood boosters, too. A study on wilderness river rafting trips found that rafting touted psychological advantages like relaxation, nature appreciation, or achievementPerceived psychosocial benefits associated with perceived restorative potential of wilderness river-rafting trips. Garg, R., Couture, R.T., Ogryzlo, T., et al. Department of Psychology, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Psychological Reports, 2010 Aug;107(1):213-26.. As far as safety goes, it's not always the catastrophic stuff to watch out for (think capsizing and the like). Minor injuries like slips, trips, and falls were most frequently reported in a study of 21 adventure tourism activities including rafting, horseback riding, and trampingMonitoring injury in the New Zealand adventure tourism sector: an operator survey. Bentley, T.A., Page, S., Edwards, J. Department of Management and International Business, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand. The Journal of Travel Medicine, 2008 Nov-Dec;15(6):395-403.. Risky business may be grounds for injury, but with expert guides, proper instruction, and the right gear, white water rafting makes for a fun (and challenging) activity.

Rapido, Rapido! - Your Action Plan

To get first-time rapid-goers on their way, we talked to some veteran rafting guides and river experts for a few essential pointers. Here are their suggestions on what to bring, wear, and expect on the water.

  • Start out slow: Experts classify rapids on a scale of 1-6. Class 1 rapids are small with a slow current and low waves, and no obstructions in the water (child's play), while Class 6 rapids feature large, frequent waves (read: you will fall out and lose your shorts on the way).
  • Wear proper wet gear: Expect to get soaked (who doesn't love a good chance to show off that itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, yellow polka dot bikini?). And to stave off tush chafing, pack a pair of gym shorts or water-resistant shorts for a barrier to the raft. Reservationist Michelle Fisher recommends wearing synthetic materials because cotton pulls heat away. And to protect the toes, Fisher suggests water shoes over flip-flops.
  • De-bling: Leave jewelry, grillz, and cash money in the car. Sky Fogal, professional river guide at Pocono Whitewater, says, “The general rule of thumb for river trips is if it got lost or wet and it would ruin your day, don't bring it.”
  • Protect your noggin: Most facilities require rafters to wear helmets past Class 1 and 2, but it depends on the state, the river, and the company (who will provide them before launching). The right protective equipment, and procedures to hop in and out of the raft minimize the risk factorsMortality and morbidity in white water rafting in New Zealand. O'Hare, D., Chalmers, D., Arnold, N.A., et al. Department of Psychology, University of Otago Medical School, Dunedin, New Zealand. The Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 2002 Sep;9(3):193-8..
  • Lather up: Logging a solid day in the sun requires some sun block application. “What folks don't expect is how sunburned the tops of their thighs and neck will be,” says PJ Stevenson, a 17-year rafting veteran.
  • Stay afloat: Just like swimmies from the kiddie pool days, keep a lifejacket on at all times. In the event that you find yourself in the river, a lifejacket not only serves as a floatation device, but makes it easier for a guide to pull you back onboard.
  • Dry off: Pack a change of clothes, a towel, and some water - though drenched, you'll likely be thirsty once on land.

White water rafting is not only a fun, exhilarating activity for most age groups, but also a way to switch up your workout routine and get some fresh air (and an excessive amount of water). Beginners should shoot for Class 1 and 2 rapids. Check out Rafting America for info on day trips or multi-day trips. And remember, it's OK to fall out. How have you dabbled in adventure tourism? Tell us about your most extreme excursion in the comments below!