Lots of people run the rivers of Texas and elsewhere every year! River running is safe and fun - if you do it right! Done wrong, it is not fun and you could not only lose your gear, but also - quite possibly - your life. We will examine several areas of river running, in this and subsequent articles - all designed to help all of us enjoy river canoeing safely.
It is imperative that boaters find the right people to go with and learn from. River running is a wilderness sport, but that doesn't mean you should get a boat and head for the wilderness. Of course, you could run rivers alone, or with other inexperienced friends and thus avoid having to deal with some people's obnoxious habits. However, it is foolish to risk your life or valuable equipment because you tangled with a river hazard you didn't expect, but which local boaters routinely deal with, and which you could have learned about if you had taken just one trip down the river with them first. River hazards create a need for companions.
In addition, how about the shuttle - which is more convenient for several people to arrange - than one or two.
River running companions now emerge as a necessity. For novices especially, going with knowledgeable people is more important than equipment, skills, or anything else.
Now where do you find such people? You can find these people mainly in three areas: a) commercial instruction programs, b) clubs, or c) individual contacts. Which method you choose is up to you - but team up!
There are really no nationwide standards for training and certifying instructors. ACA (American Canoe Association) and Red Cross trained instructors are only as competent as they choose to be - and since there are no state or federal certification and qualification programs for these people, no instructor is really "certified" or "licensed" in the true sense of the word, except by their own organization (ACA), Red Cross, etc. Therefore, all you can really do is ask an "instructor" about their background and ask former students what they learned. To find out about instruction programs, ask river related businesses, people, clubs, stores, and Red Cross people near you.
Most people can recall getting some basic instruction some time in the past- Red Cross, summer camp, Boy Scouts, etc. Instruction for canoeing on flat water is readily available, but more complete instruction in whitewater canoeing is not so common. Find out what you are getting before you sign up!
Clubs. There are a variety of clubs across the state. Clubs are independent and each is different, therefore, there are all levels of organization and disorganization. Some clubs meet monthly, others once or twice a year. Most clubs arrange group outings. These trips are led by a "trip coordinator", or experienced boater on that particular river, who leads the trip downriver and attends to all facets of the trip, including river discipline. Today most "volunteer trip leaders" are not inclined to provide a lot of instruction, if any, however, a sociable novice can always find an experienced boater to help him along. Instructional programs once provided by most clubs, now seem to have been taken over by commercial people, probably due to liability exposure to the club. Universities often have official outdoor clubs, programs and activities, although non-students may be excluded from these programs. You can, however, meet people and associate with them outside the University domain.
Canoe liveries, both local and elsewhere, can usually refer you to their programs, or to an individual club or paddler in your vicinity.
Individual contacts are also possible. You can simply go to the river and meet boaters, but be guarded about getting river advice from strangers, or actually getting on the river with them. Local boaters will tell you a section of river is easy, even if it is hard, because they are used to it.
In conclusion, it cannot be stressed enough that river runners must have companions to cope with hazards, and for novices - "if it is to be, it's up to me". Up to me to find instruction, experienced boaters, and companions. Remember, "if you need a helping hand, look at the end of your own right arm".
Next Month: Gathering and Evaluation of River Information.