Whitewater Voyages River Rafting Training & Skills

With over 30 years of rafting experience, Bill McGinnis has authored numerous books and articles on the subject of running rivers. Bill shares some of his insight into river running through the following series of articles:
  1. Leadership Skills: Creating Deep Fun
  2. Leadership Skills: The Inner Question
  3. Rafting Technique: Punching Holes
  4. Rafting Skills: Eddy is Your Friend
  5. Rafting Skills: Coping with Flips
  6. Rafting Skills: High Water Safety
  7. Guiding Skills: River Games
  8. Guiding Skills: Games for River Trips
The Guide's Guide Augmented

Guiding Skills: River Games

by William McGinnis

February 5, 2006

Most rivers include calm stretches, bus rides, and a social atmosphere at meal time, in camp, and other areas. We'll explore some great games that can be used to entertain, educate, build confidence, and enhance any river or outdoor trip. Part one of two.

GamesAs well as getting people as safely as possible down the river, it is also paramount for river guides to enhance the fun, camaraderie, learning and openness on river trips. The river games below do just this! Caution: Any game that increases the chances of people getting discombobulated or someone falling over board, should only be done with 100% willing crews in places where it is reasonably safe to swim.

Dance of the Plunging Torsos: Antics with a serious purpose, this bit of tomfoolery is both fun and teaches a crew to paddle together. Right at put in, when teaching your crew how to paddle during your in-boat training, have them sit in their paddling positions and have each crew member grip the outboard shoulder of the person in front of them with the hand of their inboard arm. All of these inboard arms are locked straight. This position somewhat simulates the paddling position of inboard hand on the paddle t-grip, and it locks the torsos of the entire crew together. You sit in the bow facing your crew and hold the inboard hands of your two bow paddlers. Reminding everyone, including your bow paddlers, to lock their inboard arms straight, you pull the torsos of your crew far forward and then push them far back over and over again. Locked together by their straight arms, plunging forward and back, the crew not only laughs with delight but also directly experiences body sensations similar to those of paddling together, taking long strong strokes, and using the full power and range of motion of their upper bodies.

Point Down River: With the crew's eyes closed, do a spin and, when boat has come to a complete stop, ask your crew members, who all the while have their eyes closed, to point their finger in the direction they think is down river – and while they hold this point, only then have them open their eyes.

Foreign Planet – also called Upside Down Backward Spin: In a big calm or very mild, wide-open section of river far from any major rapid, everyone in the boat except the captain: First, stows their paddles. Second, slides their fannies down into the boat a ways. Third, wedges their feet. And last, leans back and slides out and down so their lower backs are firmly supported by the perimeter tube with the tips of their heads nearly touching the water. With the crew looking out upside down, the captain then slowly spins the boat to give everyone an astonishing visual treat! The apparent passing view of water above and sky below so amazes the senses that people feel almost like they are on a breathtakingly strange and beautiful foreign planet. Tends to awaken folks to the ethereal beauty of our ancestral home planet: Earth!

Trust Lean: On a lake or a very long calm in hot weather, first, tuck paddles out of harms' way in the bow. Then, have the entire crew stand, hold hands and step up on the perimeter tube. Forming a sort of circle around the top of the perimeter tube and still holding hands, everyone leans out in a trust lean. If the group does not fall in, have them all start taking steps to the right or left around the raft. Trust leans can build group supportiveness, trust, fun, etc. Make whatever happens okay.

Blind Run: Above a rapid, everyone but the captain closes their eyes, and continues following the captain's commands down into and through the rapid. The crew keeps their eyes closed until given the all-clear to open them. When vision, our dominant sense, is suspended for a time, people experience the temperature, motion and roar of the rapid with a fresh, amazing intensity. To avoid losing people overboard, forewarn your crew to lean in before hitting big waves and drops.

Boofing: Pick up speed to slide your boat up onto smooth, ramp-like mid-river boulders, and then slide back down off. Sounds simpleminded but can be very entertaining.

Squirt Rafting: Use downstream ferries to pick up speed into eddies, and just as the boat crosses the eddy line, call Over left or Over right (similar to high side left or high side right) so as to increase the amount of water taken in and the tipping of the boat. This generally swamps or flips the boat, and is definitely not recommended for commercial guiding, but is worth mentioning as an extreme example of sheer human inventiveness. If squirt rafting is done at all, it should only be attempted by teams of highly experienced, 100%-willing rafting friends in safe, deep eddies where swimming is okay.

Captaining by Committee: To make a mild river more fun, especially for a group of guides or very experienced paddlers, captain by committee. That is, anyone can suggest a command by making a motion, but the motion must be seconded by someone else before the crew can act. To make things really exciting, require a motion, a second, and a vote for each command. Can be hilarious. Not recommended for regular commercial trips.


The above is an excerpt from Bill's new book The Guide's Guide Augmented. The definitive how-to book on professional guiding, The Guide's Guide Augmented has a wealth of additional river games — as well as the latest scoop on safety, rescue, entertainment, guide training and much more. To learn more about Bill's books, river trips, and 2-, 5-, & 7-day guide schools, visit WhitewaterVoyages.com or call 800-400-RAFT.

" Amazing! Our group had the most awesome time on the South and Middle Forks of the American river. We're already planning two trips for next Spring/Summer. Our guides were great, the food was superb, and the rivers were beautiful. We all look foward to a great time with you next year. "
- Josh Caine

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