White Water

02 Aug 2007

Whitewater rafting is for sissies.

Lying in the icy water of the Soca River with nothing to protect me but a helmet and an oversize kickboard, I felt vulnerable, and we hadn't even begun. As we started our practice maneouvres, it became clear that we wouldn't be able to do anything other than veer slightly to the left or right in order to miss the larger rocks. We certainly wouldn't be able to stop.

Not that we wanted to. With only limited control the ride became tactical, like a rollercoaster with a steering wheel. I watched for the guide's hand-signals, then kicked desperately to the left or right as the rocks loomed. Sometimes they'd strike from below, giving a disorienting thump with no warning. Nothing was more terrifying than going through the rapids backwards, the board uselessly trailing while I completed a slow 360.

At one point I was trapped, the board two wide to fit between two rocks, and the current too strong for me to pull it back. By the time I managed to get clear, the poor guide had parked his kayak on the bank and started walking back to look for me.

We were the only two who signed up for "hydrospeed"; everyone else at the camp chose the rafts. They passed us once or twice, and though they looked like they were having a good time, they seemed passive. While we kicked desperately around the rocks, they sat there, rowing in unison according to the commands of the guide, protected from the river and the rocks by an enormous yellow cushion of air. If hydrospeeding is like riding a motorcycle, rafting's like catching the bus.