21 years ago, my Dad and his friends came up with a crazy idea – they were going to be rafters. I’m sure that this proclamation terrified my mother.
I’m sure that this crazy idea stemmed from the old raft someone had given us that was down in the garage. We stored it in a trash can (which is probably where it should have stayed). That and the fact that the middle school science teacher was a whitewater nut. Turns out that teacher and our trashcan raft were the perfect combination. Before we knew what was happening, these men were acting like boys and going up to the river every chance they could get. Quickly, the wives and kids joined in on the class II-III sections, which kept evolving into bigger and more technical water.
A few years later, the old raft was finally retired to the curb with its old trash can, and everyone upgraded to newer boats. Our family never looked back.
My dad now owns 4 boats and enough PFD’s to outfit a small army, and is constantly offering to take groups down the river. It’s quite the legacy. In a very real way, my brothers and I grew up figuring out the river right alongside my Dad. We rafted through rain, hail and snow, got stuck countless times, got crazy sunburned, and often looked like a white trash junk-show with a truck bed full of kids, with rafts lashed on top. These are some of my favorite memories.
Now that we’re all grown, we still find ourselves meeting at the river any chance we can get. The group has changed with the addition of spouses, friends, and our 3 crazy kids, but the memories are still being made.
Now how did we do it? It really is easier than you think.
1. Read a book.
Go and get the book The Complete Whitewater Rafter. Read it from cover to cover. Then do it again – seriously. This book is a classic and teach you everything from reading the water, to rigging boats, and rescues. GET IT!
2. Get some gear.
As you can tell from my family’s experience, you don’t need anything fancy (remember the trash can). Boats are expensive so start with a used boat or better yet, rent before you commit (Runoff River has AWESOME prices for those of you in the west). If you’re looking for used gear, check out boat swaps (usually occur in the spring/fall), craigslist, mountainbuzz.com, and rental shop sales (we scored a screaming deal on a boat at this one).
3. Find a mentor.
My Dad was lucky and snagged Bryan Maddox, my science teacher to teach him the ropes (the guy wrote the book on the Cache La Poudre River – literally). Mentors of that caliber are hard to find. Your best bet is to start off with a class. Runoff River Adventures, offer fantastic classes that we highly recommend. The teachers have grown up paddling all over the world and know their stuff inside and out. Once they teach you the ropes, head out to the river as much as you can. If you don’t know anyone, just go and start making friends. It might take a while, but soon people will be happily handing out tips and offering suggestions.
21 years later and 3 of us kids have worked our way though college as whitewater guides, and the 4th as a whitewater photographer. That jump from my Dad has evolved into a family lifestyle. Thanks Dad!