What is Whitewater Rafting?

Whitewater does not mean that the water is literally white. It just means that participants paddle the raft very hard through the river’s rapids. It is estimated that between nine and 10 million have tried it and three million of them stick to it. It became popular in the 1970’s when it was added as an Olympic sport.

Who Can Participate?

Anyone of just about any age and a very high sense of adventure can try it. However, you will need to choose the right river and level for your and your family’s experience. The rapids are rated for their difficulty levels and there are six of them. Class I and II are easiest for beginners. Class I is generally very smooth with a few waves and only a couple to a few obstructions. Class II, on the other hand, does have some rocks and medium-sized waves. If you are interested in a whitewater rafting adventure of your own, then you can check out something like https://www.americanwhitewater.com/merced-rafting.

The Other Class Ratings

Class III has several moderate and irregular waves. It also has several fast currents and narrow passages. Many first-time rafters often get cocky and try the Class III on their first day. However, it is not as forgiving in case you mess up.

Class IV is considered to be very difficult and should only be navigated by very experienced rafters. Class V has several cross-currents, powerful currents, large drops and holes. It also has several obstructions as well. Class VI is practically impossible or impossible to navigate. As a result, it is usually recommended that no one at any level try these.

However, rivers don’t usually fall into one classification like a cookie cutter. As a result, it’s good to learn to scout (or “read”) the river from your raft and while you’re still on shore. Look for any obstacles such as fallen trees, large rocks, and the overall direction of the current. Also, figure out if there may be any rest stops (called “eddies”). East coast rivers usually require more expertise than west coast ones. The latter tend to be steeper in their descent and have higher volume.


Paddle rafts seat between four to eight people plus a guide. However, there is also a special one designed for just two people called the R2. There are a couple of different kinds of rafts, paddle and oar. Though the former is the most popular with commercially guided services. Instead of being at the front, everyone is expected to navigate and paddle while the guide shouts out instructions from the rear.

The oar raft is usually less hands-on and paddled by the guide by a couple of long wooden oars. They usually seat between three and five people and are usually used for easy to moderate rivers.


Even though it wasn’t added to the Olympics until the 1970’s, whitewater rafting can be traced back to 1811 when the first attempt through the Snake River was recorded. It was deemed “Mad River” as it was found to be very difficult and dangerous. The first rubber raft was made in the 1840’s. However, whitewater rafting did not become a commercialized sport until the 1940’s.