Whitewater rafting defines teamwork

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The rushing, swirling waters of the Wenatchee River in central Washington don't care who's sitting in a raft navigating their territory. They'll have their way with whomever they want.

I learned that lesson last week while accompanying the 62nd Services Squadron's Adventures Unlimited staff on the first white water rafting trip of the season. 

Guides Josh Boisvert and Gabe Laramie like to scout the river and get a renewed feel for the river each season before taking out groups.

After a thorough safety briefing on shore, I couldn't wait to hit the water. Our crew was split into two groups, four in one boat and five in the other.

When it comes to whitewater rafting, rivers are classified on a scale ranging from Class I to VI, according to American Whitewater, an organization whose mission is to conserve and restore America's whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them. I

It also maintains a national inventory of whitewater rivers.

The Wenatchee River contains rapids that rate Class III. These waves can be moderate, irregular and difficult to avoid. They can swamp an open canoe. 

Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required, according to the classification scale.

Once on the water, Mr. Laramie shouted out simple commands to navigate the boat. Simple stuff -- row forward, row backwards. But the challenge was getting synchronized.

The importance of it really shows once you hit the rough patches of the river.

As my two boat mates, both Airmen from the 62nd SVS, and I worked to get synchronized, the first rapid took us by surprise.

A towering wall of water pitched the raft's nose toward the sky, tossing me and one of my boat mates into the middle of the boat. 

The violent impact not only ripped my hat off my head and gave me a mouthful of river water, but ejected our guide into the drink. Quick action by our crew had him back in the boat in no time.

Even an experienced river veteran like Mr. Laramie said he hadn't seen a wave that large in a long time.

The water took control of our boat because our paddling wasn't in sync going into the impact. Instead of making a beeline toward the wave with a head of momentum and crashing through it, we hit it at a bad angle and went sideways.

Talk about recipe for disaster.

The impact could have easily pitched the rest of us out of the boat had we not been hanging on for dear life.

I feared these up-close-and-personal meetings with the rapids would be a common occurrence the rest of the trip.

But much to my delight, our crew learned our lesson. After a minor seating change, we worked as a finely tuned machine for the rest of the day, navigating whatever else the river threw at us with ease -- despite Mr. Laramie screaming like a banshee each time we crashed through a rapid.

The virtues of trust, teamwork, communication and even physical training came into play when we navigated the river.

Those are outstanding ingredients for any recreational activity that can be exciting, fun and build camaraderie.