Building a River Rafting Culture

When I first 'cut my teeth' river rafting, my instructors talked about a collection of 'river gods'.  They were not referring to the bold whitewater enthusiasts who were starting to push the boundaries of river rafting all over the planet while claiming first descents, though many thought of those daring adventurers as 'river gods'.  It was their way of introducing the green river runners in our party to their version of the mythological pantheon of 'river gods' that they claimed were part and parcel of a free-flowing river.

I will not bother you with the names of these gods, but I will divulge that they were 'tongue-in-cheek' monikers.  Sort of inside jokes, in the Southwestern river community where I was taught to guide.  But they stood for something else altogether - Respect.

Respect for the immense, unknowable, ultimately untameable power of moving water.

Respect like Aretha Franklin's R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Nowadays we introduce these same entities to our new guides in guide training and perform a ritual where we all sign a medium-sized river stone and cast it into the Deschutes River at the head of the first major rapid we encounter.  It's an offering and a ritual but, again, the underlying notion is that we recognize the awe-inspiring power of rivers and take a vow to never underestimate it.

This respect coupled with a safety-first mentality defines who we are as river guides at Orion River Rafting.  Armed with decades of experiential learning and an oral history passed down from one generation to the next, combined with respect, further solidifies who we are as river guides.  A healthy respect for the river matters because it permeates all other aspects of our culture.

Respect for our clients.  Respect for each other.  Respect for the value of the experience.

It's easy to lose sight of the significance of revering powerful forces outside of our control.  Behaving as if we have dominion over natural forces.  That, like the bullheaded youth in The Ballad of Belle Zabor, "he'd made himself such a name, at oar of boat, he had no peer, to him all rivers were tame."  Hubris, I believe the word is - in Greek mythos it meant "excessive defiance of the gods".

Spoiler alert:  It did not end well for our young hero.

Guides need a bit of boldness, self-confidence, assertiveness and bravado, but it all needs to be tempered with respect.  Otherwise, we do ourselves and our clients a disservice.  And we weaken the tensile strength of a solid boating community.