I’m not a river guide. In fact, my first real river trip wasn’t until my 20s when I signed up for a rowdy Class IV Tuolumne River rafting trip just outside of Yosemite National Park. I wanted to cross another item off of my “I should try that” list, but afterwards, I was hooked. It wasn’t just the whitewater either. Growing up in the Midwest, I had never experienced wilderness quite like that and I wanted more.
Now, thanks to some weird twist of fate, I actually work for one of the world’s premier whitewater rafting companies. And what makes me the most happy about this, other than the obvious job perks, is that my two boys are going to grow up rafting. They’re toddlers now, but here are a few things they will learn on our family rafting trips in the years to come.
Obviously, it takes team work to get a raft downstream. How about helping mom and dad put up the tent? That’s team work, too. The whole river trip is like a master class on the topic. Whether it’s unloading boats and setting up camp or whipping up the best camp food you’ve ever had, day in and day out your guides are working together to create a seamless and memorable trip. Not to mention, the unanticipated scenarios they often need to work through. Heck yes, I want my kids to see how a bunch of guides manage to get a raft unstuck from a big rock in the middle of the river, or how they pull of cooking dinner for the group when a summer monsoon has just unleashed a torrential downpour. Chances are they’ll do it all with a smile on their face, too, and that’s another life lesson in itself.
A deep love and respect of the outdoors.
We might not think we have to teach our kids to love the outdoors (because what kid doesn’t love playing outside?), but think about it. Our kids are the next generation of environmental stewards. If we don’t teach them the value of our public lands and how to enjoy and respect our most treasured natural landscapes, they’ll never care enough to help protect them. So take your kids rafting through a pristine wilderness area and show them the grandeur of our natural world. Let them experience the pure joy and excitement of splashing through whitewater on a little rubber raft. Watch how their faces light up when they see a bighorn sheep or a bear in real life. Sleep under the stars with them so they can see the Milky Way, maybe for the first time ever. Because its meaningful outdoor experiences like these that ultimately help foster a deep love and respect of the outdoors.
I’ve seen it. At the beginning of river trips, most kids are nervous and unsure about everything. But after a week outdoors, you’ll see a side of your kids that you’ve never seen before. Each day is a new test of their abilities and a chance to show off their newfound confidence. Suddenly, your fairly new swimmer will be leaping off the raft so they can float with the current. Or maybe, they’re older and they’ll go from hiding in the back of the raft in hopes of not getting splashed to plowing through whitewater in an inflatable kayak on their own. It could be getting on a stand-up paddleboard for the first time or standing under a waterfall as it cascades over their head. Whatever it is, all of a sudden your shy, cautious kid can be a self-confident, fearless kid who’s full of endless smiles and giggles and all about trying new things. And as a parent, there’s nothing cooler for me than watching transformative moments like this.
Some kids are shy and socially awkward across the board. So it’s safe to say that a family rafting trip, with other people from all over the country or even world, will be the ultimate test of their social skills. It’s a crash course in how to make new friends. From what I’ve seen though, when forced to engage (after all, this is an unplugged vacation), kids will naturally become a happy little crew. By the end of day one, they’ll be taking each other on in ducky wars, building extensive villages in the sand and already scheming about who’s riding in whose boat tomorrow. Of course, your kids will have to interact with other adults on the trip too, and that’s probably where the real lessons come in. Why is it so hard for many kids to look other adults in the eye when they’re talking to them? Also, most kids seem to be plagued by the mumbles. In this relatively family-esque atmosphere, hopefully your kids will get comfortable enough to start getting over some of these communication hurdles. And chances are it will happen during a raucous game of bocce ball on the beach.
The importance of listening.
How many times per day do you find yourself yelling, “Listen to me!”? Yeah, it’s a never-ending battle in my house, too. But on the river, the importance of listening might finally register with them. At home, they’re probably not going to be in a risky situation if they don’t listen (unless, of course, they fail to pick up their Legos and mom steps on them…again). On a raft, it’s a whole different reality and they’ll know it as soon as their guide starts belting out a bunch of paddling commands through the first stretch of whitewater. If only we could bring our river guides home with us after the trip, because most kids think they’re the coolest people ever and have no problem listening to them. But since that’s clearly not an option, let’s just assume some of these newfound listening skills might follow us home.
All photos by O.A.R.S.