White Water Choreography

Why You Need To Learn The Steps To Do The Dance and Avoid Standing on Someone’s Toes

The River Guide calls out, “Can I have a group of 6 over here please”. This is part of the routine at the start of each river rafting trip, a part of the dance, the choosing of the dance partners.

With good reason you may ask, “What dance?” What has a dance to do with river rafting?

The raft is still on dry land and the guide is calling the commands – “Forward paddle”, Back paddle”, “Hold On”, “Over left”, “Over right”. The crew responds much as a novice dancer. Instead of feet being stood on, we have the clashing and entanglement of paddles and confusion about which side of the raft is in fact on the left.

These commands are much as the steps in a dance, the basic movements that when put together make the dance. It is not until the guide is satisfied that the commands are understood, if not mastered, will the raft be put on the water.

It Is On The Water That The Dance Truly Begins

A dance that will see the raft weave between rock and hydraulic obstacles, drop over small waterfalls, and plunge down steep chutes. A dance that will see grimaces of fear, hear yells of excitement and feel the thrill of achievement.

To the crew the dance will appear free form, with the boat reacting and skating across the current, bucking, leaping and twisting without apparent reason. To the guide on the other hand, what is unfolding is carefully choreographed. Each command, each step, is to place the raft in a certain place on what to the novice is a maelstrom of white water confusion.

Max’s Drop Rapid on the Rangitikei River, New Zealand

What Then Is The Guide Trying To Achieve in The Confusion?

A formal dance will have its steps written down where they can be read and understood by the dancers. In the same way, but even more critically to successfully run white water, the guide must be able to read the river. What the guide reads will then be translated into the commands that the crew need to respond to.

The more difficult the white water rapid, the more urgency and precision there must be in the response.

The Steps So Far

To this point we have covered that the actions required by the raft crew are akin to the steps of a dance. We have covered that a rapid can be read, just as the choreography of a dance is read. What we now come to is the moves. The moves are what the guide and crew get when they apply their actions to what the guide reads. The flow of the dance.

This article is way too short to explore in depth the effects of water hydraulics and how those hydraulics effect rafts, rather let’s look at a few of the simple moves. But first.

Hold On and Hope For The Best

As our population becomes increasingly urbanised and loses it’s connection with the natural world, there is almost an expectation that adventure activities such as white water rafting are like taking a ride at a theme park. Exciting but almost 100% safe. No effort required.

This is best exemplified by the belief amongst many novice river runners that it is okay to paddle up to a rapid, enter the flow, hold on and hope for the best (no matter what the guide calls as a command).

Sorry to say, but in this type of situation, the best is unlikely to happen!

Where Is The Line on This Dance Floor?

The Moves That Give the Dance It’s Flow and Rhythm

Ferry Moves

Ferry Moves are where the guide places the raft at an angle to the current and calls the crew to either forward paddle or back paddle. This manoeuvre is an efficient and graceful way for the raft to move from side to side of a current and be positioned to run the major hydraulic features.

Running The Major Hydraulic Features

These features, whether they be a steep drop, a standing wave, a chute or a “hole”, are generally run with the raft running straight with the current and trying to avoid getting sideways within or over the obstacle. This will generally involve some solid forward paddling, followed by the call to “Hold On!”

Overs and High Sides To The Rescue

Overs and High Sides (the same thing, just different terminology) are the dance step that while seldom needed if the dance is going well, will rescue it if it is not. If the raft broaches against a rock or similar obstacle or is sideways to a large wave the raft may flip (turn over). This move involves shifting all the weight (crew) in a raft to one side of the boat. If done in time this move will stop the raft from flipping.

The weight in both these cases is moved to the same side of the raft as the obstacle.

Will You Join Me In This Dance?

To watch a good guide and a responsive crew running serious white water rapids is akin to watching a dance. Once you can read the water and understand the moves, then you will see it as tightly choreographed, and while not being as graceful as ballet, has a rawness of energy and movement that is easily recognisable as a form of dance.

If you wish to become a partner on this white water dance floor, follow this link to see what white water rafting trips are available with River Valley. If you cannot raft with River Valley, then get down to a white water river near you, find some partners, and have some fun with the River Dance.