Rafting vs. Canoeing

3 Min. Read

Rafting vs. Canoeing

What Rafters Say When Canoes Are Out of Earshot

Whitewater boating is not a sport like soccer or beer pong. There are no clear rules and therefore no winners or losers, but even still, a little friendly competition sometimes creeps in.

You’ll notice it when you pass another boat, especially a boat of a different kind. Rafters and canoeists sometimes eye each other with furtive glances. It’s all good-spirited of course—just being out on the river is the point, and anyone who does so has their priorities in check, but as soon as the other boat is out of earshot both groups start talking, and this is what rafters often have to say about it:

“There Are Rapids, Right?”

You’re at the put-in inflating your raft when a couple of canoeists drop their boat in the water. They step into their canoe and every rafter sees it wobble. They paddle off and we’re all left to wonder — if that craft can make it, what are we doing here? One of us turns to the leader and asks, “There are rapids on this river, right?”

“That’s What Type A Is All About”

We’ve just eddied out after a Class II rapid and we’re enjoying our lunch. Upstream we see the canoe pull to the bank and tie off with a bowline. We hear the term “weight displacement,” as they exit the boat. They hike to a spot on the rocks to scout the rapid that we just floated backward. They point a lot and have a lengthy discussion, and one of them appears to have a monocle. Then they tiptoe their canoe through the most conservative route, and shriek a little when a wave splashes their gunnels. They call out “Inventory Check!” as they drift past, and start re-securing tie-downs that may have loosened. One of us passes the other the mustard and says, “So that’s what Type A is all about.”

Rafting vs. Canoeing - Photo: Tony Faiola

“The Divorce Boat”

It’s a flat-water stretch when all of a sudden the couple paddling the canoe comes around the bend. The stern paddler barks out a command and his bow mate willfully ignores it. The canoe swerves through the flat water until they come even with our raft. The stern man raises a few fingers from the paddle-grip and says “Hey.” The other one stares straight ahead. All of us turn to watch as they zig-zag down the river and then we hear one of them yell, “I AM PADDLING!” Our leader turns to us and says, “You know, that’s why they call it the Divorce Boat.”

“They Must Be Masochists”

We’re sitting in chairs at camp enjoying the full meal upon the table — mashed potatoes, bacon cheeseburgers, string beans, and beer when the two canoeists paddle up to the nearby camp. They unload their goods, pitch a tent, and cook ramen on a Whisperlite in the dirt. The sun sets and the Milky Way splays across the mountainous sky and the two canoeists retire to the their tent. We hear the zip of their door and one of us leans in and says, “I think they must be masochists.”

Much later, after the moonrise and our bellies are sore from laughter, we crawl into our sleeping bags and close our eyes and each of us think silently unto ourselves — thank God I am a rafter.

Photos: Ray Dumas (top), Tony Faiola (bottom)

Portrait of Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His articles have appeared in Outside magazine, The Oregonian, Montana Outdoors, and he has worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park.

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