5 Whitewater Superstitions River Guides Never Ignore

5 Whitewater Rituals River Guides Never Ignore

River guides are surprisingly superstitious folks.  We’re the kind of people who will be talking your ear off about hydrology one minute and saying a quiet prayer to the “river gods” the next.

We know that running rapids is 99.9% about putting your boat in the right place, but what about that remaining .01%?  Maybe some places on the river are simply so wild and so grand that we can’t afford to ignore the supernatural, even if we’re not really sure we believe in it.

Here are a few well-known whitewater superstitions and the creative rituals many guides honor for safe passage down river.

Lava Falls | Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, Arizona

There’s an old river adage that goes,“Clean boats, clean lines.” Grand Canyon guides take this one really seriously and prepare for Lava Falls, the stompiest rapid on this stretch of the Colorado, by washing all the rafts and dories until they’re squeaky clean.

Even guides with decades of successful runs through this Class 10 big-water rapid know better than to slight the river gods on this one (or maybe they just know better than to mess with something that’s working).

Tiger Wall on the Yampa River | Photo: Justin Bailie

Warm Springs Rapid | Yampa River, Colorado

Many a hopeful boater has planted a loud smacking kiss on the Yampa River’s Tiger Wall, the iconic sandstone face marked with black, drippy stripes of desert patina.

Legend has it that boaters who kiss Tiger Wall will have good luck and safe passage through Warm Springs Rapid five miles downstream.

Blossom Bar | Rogue River, Oregon

Whitewater on the Rogue River climaxes with the beautiful, but tricky Class IV Blossom Bar Rapid, a long, technical boulder garden with a must-make move right at the top.

To make “the move,” your guide will be using ferry angles, careful timing and a strong pull, but she might also pull out a lucky floral-print, pearl snap “blossom shirt” for extra ammunition.

Troublemaker Rapid | South Fork of the American River, California

Boater lore holds that wearing brand new gear out on the river is bad luck—that a guide taking a shiny new PFD or pair of sunglasses out on the water untested is just asking for an accidental swim.

The truly superstitious will gear up and dunk into the water at put-in to get the “new gear” swim over and done before they run the risk of falling out somewhere a bit more exciting and involuntary, like in the hole at Troublemaker Rapid.

Meander Canyon | Photo: Whit Richardson

Meander Canyon | Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, Utah

Although it’s the notorious rapids that give Cataract Canyon its name, your guide is probably crossing her fingers for favorable conditions in the nearly 50 miles of flat water that run through Meander Canyon.

Vicious upstream winds can ruin a guide’s day just like a flip or a wrap, especially in desert canyons where afternoon winds can blow a heavy gear boat back upstream. Leery boatmen have come up with all kinds of crafty ways to avoid saying “the w-word.” If you hear your guide talking about Uncle Gusty or Aunt Breezy, he’s probably just trying not to accidentally invoke you-know-what.

Explore Rafting Adventures

You may also be interested in...

Annual outdoor tradition

Make an Appointment for Adventure

Jasmine Wilhelm 2 minutes
chilko2-653x411.jpg

Best of the OARS Blog 2015

Cari Morgan 2 minutes
Kaiser-MainSalmon2014-16-653x436.jpg

A Day in the Life of an Idaho River Guide

Emerald LaFortune 4 minutes
[gravityform id="25" title="false" description="false"]
<div class='gf_browser_unknown gform_wrapper' id='gform_wrapper_25' ><form method='post' enctype='multipart/form-data' id='gform_25' action='/blog/5-whitewater-superstitions-river-guides-believe/'> <div class='gform_body'><ul id='gform_fields_25' class='gform_fields top_label form_sublabel_below description_below'><li id='field_25_1' class='gfield gfield_contains_required field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible' ><label class='gfield_label' for='input_25_1' >First Name<span class='gfield_required'>*</span></label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_1' id='input_25_1' type='text' value='' class='medium' placeholder='First name' aria-required="true" aria-invalid="false" /></div></li><li id='field_25_2' class='gfield gfield_contains_required field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible' ><label class='gfield_label' for='input_25_2' >Email<span class='gfield_required'>*</span></label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_email'> <input name='input_2' id='input_25_2' type='text' value='' class='medium' placeholder='Email Address' aria-required="true" aria-invalid="false" /> </div></li> </ul></div> <div class='gform_footer top_label'> <input type='submit' id='gform_submit_button_25' class='gform_button button' value='Get Your Guide' onclick='if(window["gf_submitting_25"]){return false;} window["gf_submitting_25"]=true; ' onkeypress='if( event.keyCode == 13 ){ if(window["gf_submitting_25"]){return false;} window["gf_submitting_25"]=true; jQuery("#gform_25").trigger("submit",[true]); }' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='is_submit_25' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_submit' value='25' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_unique_id' value='' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='state_25' value='WyJbXSIsIjU3ZTliNjU4YTQxNTJjNTdhOTAwMjQ2MDBjZGU1YmJmIl0=' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_target_page_number_25' id='gform_target_page_number_25' value='0' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_source_page_number_25' id='gform_source_page_number_25' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' name='gform_field_values' value='' /> </div> </form> </div><script type='text/javascript'> jQuery(document).bind('gform_post_render', function(event, formId, currentPage){if(formId == 25) {if(typeof Placeholders != 'undefined'){ Placeholders.enable(); }} } );jQuery(document).bind('gform_post_conditional_logic', function(event, formId, fields, isInit){} );</script><script type='text/javascript'> jQuery(document).ready(function(){jQuery(document).trigger('gform_post_render', [25, 1]) } ); </script>