It only took one rafting trip for Jose Langarica to decide he was going “all in” on a career in river guiding.
This wasn’t a completely spontaneous decision, however. Jose, who spent much of his childhood in southern California, was introduced to the outdoors early on.
“I was lucky…my mother was really into camping, and so at least once a year we would go to Yosemite and camp,” he says. “The first time my mom took me, there’s a picture, and I was three or four—I think that really got me into the outdoors, having fun out there, and wanting to go camping.”
“Then in high school, when I lived in Pearblossom, there wasn’t anything to do unless you liked to go hiking,” he continues. “There was this place called the Devil’s Punch Bowl, and I would basically just go hiking by myself…I had to enjoy it somehow.”
His love for the outdoors continued, and later, Jose attended Humboldt State University to pursue a career in recreation administration and outdoor leadership. At Humboldt, he was able to get involved with the university’s outdoor program where he began assisting with sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and backpacking activities that were offered to students and the local community.
“I got to learn a lot about how other guides work,” recalls Jose. “Then the following year, I did an internship as an adventure coordinator for the same program, and as I was doing this, I was also starting to guide, as well.”
It was through his work with the university that he discovered his passion for rafting. “We had rafting at our outdoor program, but because I didn’t have experience or a guide school under my belt, that’s the one thing I couldn’t guide,” he shares. “But one day they needed a driver, so I drove for them, and got to hop on the trip as a participant.”
“Immediately I was like, ‘Wow, rafting is literally the most fun outdoor sport in the world,’” he remembers. “I only rafted that once, but I fell in love with it, and kind of just knew that I wanted to be a raft guide.”
In 2020, Jose made it happen when signed up for OARS Guide School. He’s now one of the company’s up-and-coming California guides.
“I’m definitely going all in on guiding” he says. “I love it.”
Below he shares about his guide school experience, highlights from his first season as an American River rafting guide, and why he has a passion for making the outdoors more diverse and accessible.
Meet OARS California Guide, Jose Langarica
How did you land at OARS Guide School?
I had been hearing about OARS. I loved how you were into sustainable tourism, and I really liked that you had the Pam & George Wendt Foundation. Then I found the Tuition Assistance program. I had an interview, and that’s how I got in…it was a very big relief to know that I was going to be able to afford Guide School, and that I was going to be able to work for such a cool company.
What was on of the biggest challenges of guide school for you?
I had gone rafting once as a passenger, so I never really guided a boat before. At first, when I was learning all the technical skills…J-stroking, prying off the boat, and learning all the small stuff, I really wanted to get it down. I wanted to be the best. I think that was my biggest challenge. I just really wanted to be a guide.
What was a highlight for you?
I love anything that has to do with outdoor leadership. I really do believe that you build your confidence when you learn outdoor skills…and you can apply a lot of the skills to everyday life. I feel like you also learn a lot about yourself, and other people.
Any embarrassing moments from your first season guiding American River rafting trips?
The one time I swam was when I took my family out. That was pretty funny. I was getting really close to the boat in front of me, so I moved right and ended up going too much river right [where] it was rocky and really bumpy. At first, I didn’t fall out, but I dropped my paddle and I was like, “Oh dang, my paddle’s in the water.” As I was reaching to grab my paddle, we hit another rock and it bumped me out. It could’ve been with anyone, but it had to have been with my family!
Are there any rapids on the South Fork American River that give you butterflies?
Troublemaker is the only one. I haven’t done anything crazy in there yet, but everyone else does, so I’m just waiting for my moment. Towards the end [of the season], I was getting less goosebumps, but that’s the one rapid that kind of still would get me going. I actually took my family down that rapid, and I almost flipped them. There’s this rock in the middle of the rapid called Gunsight that you want to try to avoid, and I actually boofed it. I went over the rock, and normally that would either flip you, or…it can do a lot of different things, but all it really did was flip me backwards and it was fine. They had a good time.
What did you enjoy most about your first season on the American River?
As far as rookie years go, because of COVID, there weren’t a lot of other guides, so I got to guide way more than I probably would have if it was a normal year. I also got to trip lead my rookie year. Two of the trips I actually got to lead were Foundation trips, so I’m really thankful for that.
One of my biggest passions is to take people outdoors who don’t really get a chance to do so, show them a good time, and show them how fun the outdoors can be. Their reactions to the smallest rapid, and the beautiful setting, is what really gets me going. It’s my goal to—I mean, it’s not going to take one person, it’s going to take the whole outdoor community—but really making the outdoors more diverse and more accessible.
I think if you start showing youth and children how fun the outdoors is, and why we need to take care of our environment, they grow up with that, and they also teach their family a little bit about the outdoors, and why we need to care about the outdoors. I think that helps out too.
Can you tell me a bit more? Why is this such a passion of yours?
Growing up, because I hung out more in the outdoors and did outdoor things, some of my friends, and even some of my family, they’d be like, “Why do you do that? That’s such a white people thing.” Where it’s like, “No. It doesn’t need to be a white people thing. You can do this too.”
I think showing people that they can do things that they think that they can’t, or wouldn’t necessarily have the resources to do—if I can be the person to get funding, or create a trip for them to make it possible for them to go out—then I’m going to do that.
I really believe in diversifying the outdoors and getting more people of color outdoors, so it’s not just a white space…and getting more people to feel comfortable outdoors.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Photos: Jess Wallstrom, Hotshot Imaging