River Paddling 101

Posted July 20, 2011 by Jeremy

When rafting with All-Outdoors, we stress safety and fun above all else. And in order for both things to be properly maintained, we do ask for paddling participation from all our rafters. The more advanced the river, the more important the teamwork and paddling know-how becomes! Before we put any rafts on the river, we always do a pre-river orientation that covers paddling technique and the commands your guide will use to tell you how to maneuver. Here is a sneak peek at what the guides will tell you, so you can impress them when you get to your trip and be ahead of the game in order to ensure a successful rafting trip!

Forward paddle – This means exactly what it sounds like; paddle in order to move forward! With a stern hand on the top of the T-grip on your paddle, and your outside hand somewhere comfortable along the shaft of the paddle, you are being asked to dig in to the water and propel the boat forward. Paddling is done with your body, so lean forward in your athletic position and crank back until you are leaning back, with the “fulcrum” of the paddling hitting next to your outside hip.

Back paddle – You can imagine that a back paddle would be the exact opposite of a forward paddle. It’s performed in order to move the raft in reverse, usually away from the current to find an eddy to wait above a rapid in. This move is essential when you hit a train of rapids and need to slow down in between to catch a calm spot and plan your line for the ensuing drops. The only difference between the two moves is that you need to dig your paddle in at the ending point of a forward paddle, and propel it forward to a starting point. The body position is the same; you just change from “drive” to “reverse” basically.

Left turn/Right turn – These moves become a lot more important when you get to rivers like the North Fork of the Stanislaus or Cherry Creek, where certain sections of the river get really technical and you have to move around boulders or branches. Once you nail these turns, you’re going to love roaring down big lines anticipating the turns. The left and right turns are the most confusing, because it requires one side of the raft to paddle forward and the other side to paddle backwards in unison to create the actual torque required to run a raft in moving water. So when the guide calls out “left turn,” the left side of the raft will back paddle when the right side goes forward. The right turn is opposite – so if the side of the raft you are sitting on is the way you have to turn, be prepared to back paddle hard and fast.

Paddling in general is definitely built around teamwork. The guide in the back is the captain, calling out commands and anchoring the raft when adjustments have to be made. But as for the rafters, whoever is in front on both sides are the leaders. By that I mean that the people behind them will make their paddle strokes based on what the leaders do. So, learn these commands and get a head start on the rest of the raft so you can stake your place at the front as a leader. I promise our AO rafting guides will be impressed!


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