What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to go white water rafting)

My first time rafting I was eight years old. I remember splashing through waves, swim spots, riverside snacks, but what I remember most is my mother clinging to the back of my lifejacket, unwilling to let go even when the guide gave a command of ‘All Forward’.  I must have had fun though because I’m here, in the Squamish Valley, 17 years later, rafting almost daily. The butterflies going into rapids don’t go away, nor does the clinging mother (figuratively this time), but the excitement to bomb through the water, and letting others experience the power of the river and its surrounding beauty, will always be growing. 

What you can expect, so far, for your first time rafting is: A lifejacket, a guide, nervous excitement, powerful water, some stunning views, and of course, a worried mum. But here’s a slightly more comprehensive explanation of what to expect when you’re expecting to take a trip down the river.

1. The gear. RuPaul and Karl Lagerfeld couldn’t have come up with a more winning combination if they tried – wetsuit, booties, neoprene and bright blue splash jackets, all topped off with a lifejacket, and helmet. You’ll be sweating on the bus and moderately warm on the river, but damn, will you look good doing it.

2. The bus ride. Here in BC we have a wonderful network of logging roads that provide access to wild places. So, congrats, you’ve paid for a rafting trip, and we’ve thrown in a free massage chair for the half hour – hour it takes to get to/ from the river.  You’ll spend this time learning about the other guests, and your guides, who have come from around the world just to send themselves floating down the river in a giant rubber dingy. As a wise high school basket-baller once said, “we’re all in this together,” so get to know your new rafting buddies.

3. The safety talk. Once everyone piles off the bus and the whirl wind of boats, paddles, frames, and oars flying off the trailer comes to a halt, you’ll gather next to the river and listen to the fearless trip leader give a stirring speech about river safety. Standing at the put-in, you’ll feel like a ten-year-old boy in math class unable to focus because there are so many new sights to take in, but keep your attention on your guide to make sure you’re picking up what they’re putting down. It’s important and will make everyone’s trip healthier and happier.

4. The guides. Don’t be deceived by the sometimes smelly, maybe unkempt display of man or woman sitting in the back of your raft. Despite the dirt-bag demeanour, these are all well trained, certified, professional river guides coming from a wide variety of places, rivers, education, and experience who do this job because they love it and want other to share that love. Even if you have never set foot on a boat before, they will teach you what you need to know for a successful trip down the river. Ask them anything, they know a lot about the river and the surrounding area, and if they don’t, they’ll probably make something up.

5. The river. Whether you’re floating down the scenic Squamish, having family fun on the class II Cheakamus or riding the class III/ IV exhilarating Elaho, the rivers are the same. Compelling and cold.  Each sits in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped mountains that feed the flow; bright grey and blue water tumbles over and around rocks creating rolling waves that crash in and around the boat. You’re getting entrance to a space few have the tools to access. You’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll maybe cry (about the bad raft guide jokes), and you’ll have an appreciation for strength and beauty of your guide… and hopefully the river too.

6. The end. Go home, tell your friends, tell your mom, tell your grandchildren about how the rivers of coastal BC slapped you in the face with their frigid water, but you and your international crew sliced through those waves and had a wicked time doing it.

All this to say, there’s a river for everyone, you don’t need any experience rafting, it’s normal to be nervous, and it’s worth it for the wild ride, great company, and even better views.  Happy rafting!