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Old 01-08-2015   #1
Gardnerville, Nevada
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 13
Best strategy for getting my feet wet (get it?)

All of my rafting trips have been with "a friend of a friend", I think I just get invited along to help shuttle, or to bring beer. Point being, I don't have any close friends in the sport to help me get in, I have to get in on my own.

My original plan was to buy a cheap raft this spring, hire a guide (or just a friend with some experience) for a few one-day trips to help me learn, and away I go.

I'm starting to re-think that strategy in favor of taking a guide school this spring. Problem is, I can't afford both, if I take a guide school this spring then I'm not buying my own raft until NEXT spring. I just can't swing both at once.

There are several guide schools just a few hours from me, mostly running the American River, which is likely to be the majority of my rafting anyways, so that seems like a good idea. I'll get professional instruction on the exact rivers I'm likely to be running, at least for the first few years of my boating career.


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Old 01-08-2015   #2
DesertRatonIce's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1982
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 217
I would go to guide school. It's nice when you are learning to learn correctly the first time. It's hard to break bad habits. You will meet people at the guide school and that Is a great way to get your feet wet. Who knows, you may even wanna be a commercial guide. The American River loves to hire weekend warriors. I think a section of the American is one of the most popular day stretches run commercially in the U.S.

I also think going to a guide school could get you a lead on nicer raft. Raft Guides are always selling things for various reasons. You may find a boat that way. I also know that many commercial companies on the American sell there older boats to people looking for something. Keep in mind, the boats have been used a lot and may have problems. I have an old boat I bought off a company and I fixed some minor things and she works for what I need.

I hope this little bit of info helps.


Woke up this morning at 10:13.

A hole so big, it sucked the leaves off the tree.
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Old 01-08-2015   #3
Wondervu, CO, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2001
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 390
Apply for permits, get lucky and win a permit. Then you find many skilled boaters wishing to join you! You can always return the permit if you can't put a trip together.
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Old 01-08-2015   #4
elkhaven's Avatar
Belgrade, Montana
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 1,660
That's kind of a tough one... There are two aspects to this, first is learning to boat, second is connecting with other boaters. As far as learning Lots of folks here like to suggest guide schools and I can't say it's a bad idea but it wouldn't be my preferred method. It'll teach you the nuts and the bolts but the intricacies are only learned with experience. Experience will only really come until you connect with people to boat with... It's just not practically (or safely) an individual sport. That said maybe you can identify some runs that are within what ever skill set you currently have and once you get a boat get out and learn. Even rowing on flatwater will build skills.

If I were in your shoes I'd try to meet some folks in the local boating community or reconnect with the friends of friends that you've been out with. That would be a start, from there just be sure to be very open to ideas, be very helpful and fun when you are invited and always carry your own weight (including, gas, beer, food, whatever). I'm sure you know this but people like being around happy, helpful, friendly people. It can be difficult to know when to help and when to not, but having a willing smile is always a great start.

I could see where the guide school may be valuable to give you base skills and more confidence when you do make connections and the safety training would be valuable to any group. I just have a hard time suggesting paying for something you can learn with a group of friends, in your case a new group of friends, even. Nothing wrong with paying for the class, just don't let it be a surrogate for learning from "real" folks and for gods sake if you take class don't remind everyone you took it every 10 minutes... Maybe that's really my problem with such classes, all the a-holes that think it makes them god's gift to the sport.

People in this sport are usually very passionate and they love talking about boating (i.e. why this forum exists) so find folks that talk boats and boating and get plugged in before the season! Then get a boat, you'll get more invites owning a boat than taking a boating class, I promise. Disclaimer - though our lawyers feel we should suggest you take the class first and familiarize yourself with your limitations and the dangers of the sport, blah blah blah... So this doesn't mean you should act like you know what your doing if you don't but having a ride will open up a lot of doors.
Yesterday's gone on down the river and you can't get it back. - Agustus McCrae
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Old 01-08-2015   #5
Lakewood, Colorado
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 108
A few thoughts...

A few years ago I didn't have much money and was wanting to get into rafting after moving to colorado. After looking around at entry costs, I ended up buying a kayaking setup instead. Much much much cheaper than buying a starter rafting setup. I think it is also easier to get more days on the river and meet other boaters... You also only need another kayaker or 2 to get out on the river safely, instead of having to recruit a boat full of paddlers. You will learn basic river safety and skills that is transferable to rafting if you want to go that route in the future. And most of all it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Now that I am out of school and have some disposable income, I am putting together a multiday rafting setup for overnight trips and to get my wife out on the river with me.
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Old 01-08-2015   #6
oarframe's Avatar
Gardnerville, Nevada
Paddling Since: 00
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 447
hey neighbor...

Welcome to the buzz and to the community.

I think getting (or having access to) a boat is the first step. Then the thing to do is get on the water and get some time in. The Carson is a great place to learn and hone skills, so is the American, the Truckee, and when you feel good enough the T and the Merced. All within a few hrs drive. There's a pretty good group of local rafters & kayakers up here. Send me a pm with your contact info and I'll let you know the next time we go down to the American.

Like Elkhorn mentioned, having a good attitude goes a long way to getting invited on trips, so does having your own boat.

more snow = more water
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Old 01-08-2015   #7
Jackson, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1966
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 427
I'll tell you what I did; it may or may not work for you.
I bought a small raft that I could push up onto the roof of my car (with a simple frame and oars).An
old-timer rafting guy I know suggested I put it on a lake and get a feel for how to move it around -- especially how to row in a straight line. I did not take his advice (which is not to say it might not be good advice).
I put the raft on a tame section of the river that I had canoed and kayaked before (so I knew the river section). Right or wrong, I went w/o other boats (but this was not especially remote). I should mention that my wife was with me.
After I did that a couple of times and felt ready for it, I took it on a section that required a bit more maneuvering and was a little bit remote (still no whitewater). I took it very gradually, but had my own boat and a whole lot of fun for a season or two.
So this strategy works if there are river sections in your neighborhood that you could be comfortable/safe on.
I should add that later I took the NWRC class III school on the Rogue; a week later I ran a borrowed 16' bucket boat for 7 days on the Green River (Desolation/Gray Canyons).
I guess I'm pointing out that you don't have to start with guide school or even hooking up with other rafters if you have some easy river sections that would also be gratifying for the time being. (I'm fortunate that the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park is both accessible and gratifying.) I wanted to have my own boat and be able to use at will -- LOVED it.
Just my 2 cents.
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Old 01-08-2015   #8
oarframe's Avatar
Gardnerville, Nevada
Paddling Since: 00
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 447
Jnovice has a good point about a smaller boat. I certainly get out more with my little raft than the bigger one. The downside is that it may limit the length of trips you will go on, or at least reduce the amount of gear you can carry. On the other hand with the lack of water out here, a smaller boat will get you on rivers at lower levels than you would be willing to scrape a larger boat down. There are a few real good small boat runs out here.
more snow = more water
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Old 01-08-2015   #9
Andy H.'s Avatar
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,909

Welcome to the Buzz and boating. Sounds like there's already a local Buzzard ready to take you under his wing, so you've got a great start already!

Ditto on a smaller boat (12' -13') for starting out. If you can get a frame and oars, do it. Even with a small boat, you can support yourself and at least one, if not a couple more people, thus pulling your weight in a group. It'll also be cheaper, easier to get to and from the river, and store. You can usually run big rivers with a small boat but not always the other way around.

Also agree with doing lots of flatwater floating where you get to develop muscle memory. Taking the boat straight to Class III you may risk making one wrong stroke, wrapping your boat around a rock, and ruining the whole thing on your first time out.

Other random thoughts:
  • Taking the boat out on a lake for the maiden voyage is a great idea, it's a lot easier to get back to the car if you forget something critical and you're not moving while you get things figured out for the first time on the water.
  • Class II is usually pretty easy, Class III can ruin your boat if you screw up once.
  • Practice going from one eddy to another eddy across the river. Lots and lots.
  • See if there's a local raft club or meet-up group where you can go with other newbies and learn together.
  • Swiftwater rescue and/or guide training are great things to do.
  • Advanced First Aid training and a First Aid kit for the river is a must.
  • Remember the words "what can I do to help?" and be ready to do it.
  • Rafting is very gear intensive and expensive, maybe a ducky would be a good place to start if you're not completely sure you want to get into whitewater boating.
  • Always bring some extra clothes and foul-weather gear, even if it's hot and sunny at the put in.
  • Never overstate your river-running abilities to a trip leader you haven't boated with.
  • Find a used boat and gear, even a bucket boat will probably work for you to figure out if you're ready to start really investing in the gear.
  • Pick up a copy of The Complete Whitewater Rafter by Jeff Bennett and read it all.
  • Don't let internet pissing matches discourage you from asking questions on MB.

Have a great time and be safe!

Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard. - Lao Tse
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Old 01-08-2015   #10
DesertRatonIce's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1982
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 217
Best strategy for getting my feet wet (get it?)

I do agree with everybody that you can learn on your own and accomplish great things in that way. I give the opinion that a guide school or guide training would be beneficial towards the social side of boating. Getting connected into that is awesome and very intoxicating at times as well. Ha. You will most likely get invited on more private trips because people can see you have some skills.

A 12 footer is a great starter boat. You can run it in most water levels.

Woke up this morning at 10:13.

A hole so big, it sucked the leaves off the tree.
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