The Basics on How to Read Whitewater

The power of water can be intimidating, especially fast moving whitewater. Humans tend to fear what we don’t understand and when we first come to a swiftly flowing river it appears chaotic and scary because we don’t yet understand the flow of the currents. Once we begin to learn and recognize that currents are made up of certain staple features such as eddies, eddy lines, downstream Vs, rocks, waves and hydraulics pathways begin to open up amid the chaos. Even the scariest rapids are made up of these staple features. Recognizing the best path through a rapid boosts your confidence and helps you discern if your skills are up to running the line.

Learning to read whitewater takes some time and requires some risk taking. Choosing and running your own line through a rapid is one of the best ways to learn how to read water. When first learning it’s normal to misread the water and end up somewhere in the rapid that isn’t that much fun. This is why it’s important to learn how to read whitewater on easy rivers first and with a qualified whitewater kayak instructor. Here are some tips that can help supplement your instruction and help people who are paddling recreational kayaks in very easy-going, slow moving current.

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The Downstream V

The most basic and important feature to look for in current is the ‘Downstream V.’ Dark or ‘green’ water fills the middle of the ‘V’ and whitewater forms the edges of the ‘V.’ You’ll literally see a loosely formed V in the water with the point of the V pointing downstream. The V shows you the deepest and usually the best route to take through a rapid, especially in class II and III rapids. Current that is dark is deep and usually obstacle-free. Whitewater is formed by water flowing over rocks or debris in the riverbed and indicates obstacles in the river. This doesn’t mean that whitewater equals shallow water – some big rivers like the Grand Canyon – have whitewater that is very deep. The V shows you the obstacle-free and deepest entrance to the rapid. The V also usually leads into fun, friendly waves. The V can be described by some as a ‘tongue’ of water flowing into a rapid.

At first it will be easier to recognize downstream Vs from above so you’ll want to get out of your kayak and look at them from shore. Eventually it will get easier and easier to see them from your kayak sitting in the water. At times you’ll have to get very close to the top of the rapid before you see the downstream V. If you’re approaching a rapid and you’re not sure if you can see the V and you’re nervous about running the rapid blind then it’s always best to get out and look at it from shore.


An eddy is a place in a river where the current flows upstream. This happens when the downstream current flows around an obstacle such as a rock, meets and is pushed back upstream. The same can happen when there is a point of land that juts out into the river. The current is deflected by the point of land and creates a space for current to fill in by flowing back upstream.

Eddies are great places to stop, rest or get in and out of the river. In slow moving rivers the current in the eddies flows very slowly or is almost stagnant so it’s easy to rest. As you move into faster flowing rivers the current in eddies flows much faster and can feel chaotic. Recognizing eddies is important because they offer a place for respite if you need a break from the whitewater. A qualified kayak instructor can help you recognize and learn how to efficiently get in and out of eddies.

Eddy Lines

An eddy line is a swirly line at the edge of eddies where the current flowing downstream meets the current flowing upstream. Eddy lines are some of the most unstable currents in the river for kayaks. Some eddy lines are well defined and easy to recognize while others are more ambiguous. In slow moving current eddy lines aren’t a big deal, but once you get into fast moving water you’ll want to learn proper technique for crossing eddy lines so that you don’t flip over.


Rocks are an integral part of a river. They’re everywhere in the current and on shore so it’s important to make friends with rocks if you kayak or are planning to learn how to kayak. Sometimes rocks are above the current in which case you want to try to avoid them. Remember that you must anticipate when you want to avoid a rock in a kayak because the current is continually moving you toward the rock. Once you’re right at the rock it’s too late to avoid it so it’s important to look ahead and make moves early.

The key to avoiding rocks is to look at where you want to go and not at the rock! If you do find yourself up against a rock defy your instincts and lean into the rock. By leaning into the rock you allow yourself to stabilize and the current will naturally push you around the rock. If you lean away from the rock you’ll expose the upstream edge of your kayak to the current that will act on your boat to flip you over.

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If rocks are just under the surface then I encourage my beginner students to paddler right over them. This way you’ll keep your speed and your stability. When paddlers try to get around a rock at the last minute they often end up going over the rock sideways which is much more unstable.


Rocks under the surface of the water create waves and hydraulics. Water flows over the rocks, drops and then comes up forcefully mixing with the air and creating whitewater. Waves are formed when there is a lot of water flowing over the rocks. Waves are friendly and fun to run. They do act on your kayak with a force pushing back upstream so it’s good to paddle enough so that you maintain a speed that is faster than the current. This will keep you from flipping over.

Hydraulics aren’t as friendly as waves, and even though you can surf a lot of them and have fun, it’s best to avoid them in the beginning. A hydraulic is created when there is a steep drop off of the water behind the rock which creates a strong back current flowing upstream feeding the current back into the hydraulic. Hydraulics have large ‘foam piles’ of whitewater flowing back upstream which can help you to recognize them. If you hit the wrong hydraulic it can keep you there until you get tired and have to swim out of your kayak. This isn’t any fun so it’s best to avoid them!

Downstream Vs, eddies, eddy lines and rocks are present on all rivers. Learning to recognize them is an important confidence booster and is key to white water kayaking. It’s also nice to understand the current so that you see pathways instead of chaos and if you do see chaos you can avoid it! This article helps to outline the basic features of any river, but it’s no substitute for one on one instruction and experience on an actual river. Seek out instruction from a qualified white water kayak instructor before venturing out on any fast flowing river.

Have Proper Whitewater Gear

If you are a first-timer or beginner to reading and paddling whitewater, ensuring that you have all the proper gear is also of critical importance. Be sure you’ve got each of the below pieces of gear covered before venturing out.

How to Read a River: The Basics

2 kayaks on a whitewater river

Are you intimidated by the power of whitewater? If you are, you’re not alone. Lots of people are afraid of surging whitewater. Rivers with whitewater often seem frightening and chaotic, because we aren’t familiar with the way that currents within these waterways flow. After we become more familiar, by learning about the features which contribute to currents, including downstream Vs, waves, rocks, eddies, eddy lines and hydraulics, we begin to make sense of rivers. The process of analyzing a river is known as “reading a river”. Today, we want to share basic information about how to read a river.

Once you learn how to read a river, you’ll be primed to find the best pathway through the water. Mapping out this type of pathway will build your confidence. You’ll be able to decide if your kayaking skills are good enough to “run the line” safely.

Developing the capacity to read whitewater accurately will require a bit of time. It may also require some trial and error. When you pick a line (a route) for a river and then run it in your kayak, you’ll be testing your river reading skills. If you misread the water, you may end up capsizing.

We recommend analyzing gentler rivers first. We also think that newbies should take kayaking lessons from skilled instructors with good credentials. Our tips are meant to augment training that is accessed via kayaking lessons. Our tips are also appropriate for recreational kayaking enthusiasts who generally stick to rivers with slow-moving, easy currents.

Discover the Downstream V

This feature is something that you need to recognize. With the “downstream V”, green or dark water makes up the center part of the “V” and whitewater makes up the edges of the V. When you start to read rivers, you’ll begin to notice these loosely-formed ‘vees”. The vees will point in downstream directions.

A downstream V will show you where the water is the deepest. The deepest water in a whitewater river is usually the best water to paddle through, particularly when rapids have Class II or Class III designations. This is why finding a downstream V is a good starting point for mapping out a route. It’s a clue which will show you which line is the safest.

The downstream V indicates a section of the river where there is flow which is unobstructed.

Whitewater develops when water flows over debris or rocks in a riverbed. Whitewater is sign of obstructions within the river. Some waterways have deep whitewater and others have shallower whitewater. When you find the downstream V, you’ll discover a deep and obstacle-free entryway to a rapid.

Downstream “vees” typically lead to waves that are friendly and fun. A “V” may also be known as a tongue.

It’s simpler to spot these V shapes from high up, so find a good spot on the shore and then keep an eye out for them. As you begin to seek out downstream Vs, it’ll become much easier to identify them. In some cases, you may need to be pretty close to a rapid’s tip before the downstream V is visible.

If you’re in your kayak and moving towards a rapid, and you’re not really positive that you can see a “vee”, you may want to go ashore, rather than running the whitewater rapid “blind”.

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Learn to Recognize Eddies

Eddies in whitewater river

Eddies are places in rivers where currents flow upstream. Eddies are caused by downstream currents flowing around obstacles, such as rocks. The obstacles push the water upstream. The same thing may occur when there is a piece of land which juts out from the water. Currents are deflected by points of land and a space is created that a current flows into. The current will then flow upstream.

An eddy is a place where it’s possible to rest for a bit, or exit the river if you want to. In rivers with slower-moving currents, eddies are practically stagnant. If they aren’t stagnant, they may have very slow flow. This means that they are ideal places to take a break.

In rivers that flow at faster speeds, eddies usually have currents which flow quickly. These eddies may seem chaotic.

It’s vital to recognize eddies. They are areas of respite which offer kayaking enthusiasts a break from the intensity of whitewater. A good kayaking instructor will be able to show you how to recognize eddies. He or she will also be able to show you how to get into eddies and get out of eddies.

Eddy Lines May Be Dangerous

Eddy lines are swirling lines which are found at the edges of eddies, where downstream-flowing current meets upstream-flowing current. Eddy lines are currents which are unstable. It’s pretty simple to recognize the most defined eddy lines. However, eddy lines which are not as well-defined may be a lot tougher to spot.

In a slow-moving river, eddy lines shouldn’t be a big problem. In a fast-moving river, eddy lines should be avoided, because paddling into them may cause your kayak to flip over.

Rocks are Hazards in Currents

whitewater kayaker tackles waterfall

Rocks are typical parts of every river. They’re all around in the current and on the shore. To avoid rocks, you’ll need to understand that the water’s current is continually moving your kayak towards these rocks. You’re going to have to plan ahead to stay away from them.

If you spot a rock too late, it may not be possible to avoid it while you’re in your kayak. The key to staying away from rocks is looking ahead and making moves early on.

One expert tip is to look in the direction that you wish to go in, rather than looking at the rock. When you steer while you’re looking in the right direction, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding rocks. If the worst happens and you discover that you’re close to a rock, do what’s counter-intuitive. This means leaning into a rock and using it for stability.

When you do this, the current will push you around the obstacle. If you lean away from the obstacle, you’ll leave part of your kayak (the edge that’s upstream) exposed to the current and this may be enough to cause your kayak to flip over.

When rocks are right beneath the surface, the best strategy is to paddle over them. When you do this, you’ll maintain your stability and speed. When paddlers wait too long to start moving around rocks, they sometimes go over the rocks sideways…and this is not a stable way to go over rocks.

Important Information About Hydraulics

The rocks which are situated below the surface of the water make hydraulics and waves. Water flows over the stones, drops down and then surges back up. When the water comes back up, it mixes with air and this creates whitewater. Waves are made when a lot of water flows over rocks. Waves are fun to kayak in and they boost kayaking speed and make a flip-over less likely. For these reasons, waves are considered, “friendly”.

Hydraulics are a bit more unfriendly. It’s possible to surf these hydraulics and enjoy the experience. However, newbies should probably stay away from them until they develop better whitewater kayaking skills. Hydraulics happen when there are steep drop-offs in water, behind rocks, which causes a back current of significant strength to develop. These back currents flow upstream and feed current back to the “hydraulic”.

Hydraulics include big piles of foamy whitewater which flows upstream. These piles are something to look for when you’re searching for hydraulics in the river. If you hit certain hydraulics, you may get stuck there and get weary. You may need to swim out in order to get free. It’s better to stay away from them.

Try Reading a River Today

Surging whitewater river with red kayak

Rocks, eddy lines, eddies, hydraulics and downstream Vs are parts of all rivers. Now that you know some basic tips on how to read a river, you’ll be able to spot these elements and act accordingly.

Once you begin watching whitewater rivers closely, you’ll see that they aren’t just chaos. There are patterns and predictable elements.

How to Become a River Rafting Guide

How To Become A River Rafting Guide

You wake up early in the morning on a bright sunny day. You are heading to work but don’t need to dress formally.

You just throw on a pair of shoes and shorts and proceed towards the river in the national park.

As you hear the water gushing down the stream, you lavishly apply the sunscreen and are ready to put your raft in the river.

That could be the closest to an ideal vacation. But wait! This is not a vacation. It’s your job and you have just reached your workplace.

River rafting is one of the most exciting outdoor activities in the world. A sport that gained popularity in 1970s is now a great recreational activity.

You can find river rafting opportunities in numerous rivers around the world. Some offer extreme rapids while others provide a much smoother ride.

As much as you want to enjoy rafting alone, no river rafting spot offers the facility without a guide.

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A river rafting guide ensures that you enjoy a safe and smooth ride as you go up and down the river.

The job of a river rafting guide can be an ideal job for anyone who loves being around water.

If river rafting fascinates you and you want to pursue a career in rafting, you do not need a professional qualification or experience.

On a positive note, you can be a seasonal river rafting guide so you don’t need to quit your existing job (if you have a professional career).

All you need is a license, the right age, perfect fitness and good sense of humor. Below you can find out how to become a river rafting guide.

Also, if you are not sure why you want to pursue this as a career, we provide some good enough reasons to motivate you.

As you continue to read you will also find out about some of the possible employment opportunities at some of the popular rafting destinations in the US.

Why Become a Rafting Guide?

Why Become A Rafting Guide?

Being a river rafting guide is a job full of adventure and thrill. But apart from the fun aspect, there are many other reasons for becoming a river rafting guide.

Read on to find out the top reasons why people pursue this career and continue with it years after years.

River Rafting Is Fun

One of the most important reasons why people want to become a river rafting guide is because it is fun. For most people, the mundane desk job is not what they want.

They want the excitement and thrill associated with outdoor activity and there is no better option than river rafting.

Spending time in outdoors is an essential human need and rafting helps you meet that.

Though being a river rafting guide involves physical activity, but if are someone who thrives outdoors around water, then being a rafting guide is something you will definitely enjoy.

It is Challenging

If you spend most of your time sitting in front of the desk, you might want a change. Being a river rafting guide provides you this opportunity.

It gives you a chance to be physically active while being on the job. Once you get used to this physical activity on the job, it is highly likely that you will end up pursuing this as your career path.

Being a river rafting guide is not only physically challenging but it is also mentally challenging.

The job requires you to be in the moment so that you can immediately solve any problem which comes along the ride.

So whether you want to choose the best course for your raft or plan to prevent a possible clash, your brain is never at rest.

People who grow well on this stimulation certainly want a career as a river raft guide.

It is a Way to Expand Your Social Circle

Being a river rafting guide is all about making friendships which last for a lifetime.

A lot of young adults start their career as a rafting guide but as they go through the training process of becoming a guide, they get to know a lot of new people who become great friends.

Also, when these new guides join the workforce, it gives them a chance to meet different people on every single trip.

Some of these people become part of your social network which you can benefit from later in life.

How to Become a River Rafting Guide?

How Much Do River Rafting Guides Make?

The job of a river rafting guide is an excellent way to earn paychecks while enjoying the thrill and excitement of an outdoor water adventure.

So as you reap the benefits of improved fitness and making friends for life, you can do all this while making good money.

Similar to all professions, beginners in the industry need to work hard to make their way up the professional ladder. Only then they can enjoy the monetary benefits associated with their job.

But the best part of a rafting career is that most companies compensate well for new guides who take more responsibility and satisfy the clients.

Though each rafting company has a different compensation policy, a new rafting guide of average can make between $65 and $75 per day.

This is just an average so some rafting guides get slightly lower than this while others can earn much higher.

Since rafting is a seasonal job, over the course of the season, a guide earns a minimum of $4,000.

But as you gain more experience, the compensation tends to increase. Also, most companies offer a base pay and top it up with other benefits such as a bonus on x-number of trips.

Therefore, one of the best ways to earn more is to have guests who can request you as their guide.

How Many Rafting Hotspots are out There in the US?

How Many Rafting Hotspots Are Out There In The US?

Numerous rafting companies operate in almost all states of the country. Below you can find a list of some of the most amazing rafting hotspots in the country.

These locations are shortlisted based on popularity among tourists, experience with the rafting company (called outfitters) and guides and availability of activities other than rafting.

    , Grand Canyon – Arizona
  1. Tuolumne River – California
  2. Arkansas River – Colorado
  3. Gauley River – West Virginia
  4. Salmon River – Idaho
  5. Rogue River – Oregon
  6. Kennebec River – Maine
  7. Chattooga River – South Carolina
  8. Ocoee River – Tennessee

Moving Forward

Being a river rafting guide can be a dream profession for anyone who enjoys being in the water.

It comes with a unique set of benefits, a decent paycheck and lots of fun.

So if you are looking forward to a career in river rafting, now is the right time to apply.




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