|Photo by Aaron Reed|
Rafts are traditionally boats for the masses, whether ushering novices or hauling heaps of camping equipment. Today’s nimble raft designs, however, are more than just beasts of river burden. In the right hands, a small R-2 raft (two paddlers) can negotiate stomping whitewater. R-2 teams have run everything from California’s South Fork Merced to West Virginia’s Upper Blackwater, runs that were once exclusively the domain of hardshell boaters. Oregon’s North Fork Clackamas was one such no-raft zone until rafting die-hard Tim Brink dialed it. Brink captains the Oregon Rafting Team, and thrives on pushing rafts beyond their normal territory. He once dislocated his hip rafting over 46-foot Celestial Falls. Spare yourself his painful lessons and take Brink’s advice on effective R-2 technique, whether you’re paddling big drops or taking a less experienced partner down your favorite run.
– Tyler Williams
*Match body size. Disparate stroke strength and uneven weight distribution are both brutally apparent when there are just two of you in the boat. It can even be a safety issue. “When I dislocated my hip, it was partly due to the fact that my partner was 6’6″, much bigger than I am,” Brink recalls. “We couldn’t brace together effectively (for impact).”
*Sit solidly. A good foot brace is imperative for staying in the boat when things get rowdy. Some boats come with specially designed foot cups. Otherwise, a solid foot wedged beneath a fully inflated thwart usually works just as well. “A grab strap rigged around the middle of the thwart is handy for beginners,” Brink advises. “Staying in the boat is the main thing.”
*Constant communication. Clear communication with your partner is always the first step to a successful run. R-2 commands are no different, albeit easier when your paddling mate is right next to you. “It’s great when you have a partner who is on the same page, but if you have to call out every stroke, do it.” Brink says. “I often talk through every move with my partner just to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.”
*Back-weight the big drops. ‘Penciling’ vertically into hydraulics at the base of waterfalls is a recipe for an extended hole surf, and possibly a flip. Brink recommends shifting “your body toward the rear of the raft if the drop is taller than the boat is long.” He continues, “We made the first successful raft descent of the White Salmon’s Big Brother because we allowed the front of the raft to flare out beyond the hole, where the downstream current was.”
*Get down! This is a typical final command before guides drop paying guests over the lip of the Upper Gauley’s Sweet’s Falls. Brink takes it a step further. “Eliminate secondary movement,” he says. “Like wearing a seat belt in a car crash, if you can stop yourself from having a second collision after impact with the bottom of the drop, you’ll be better off.”