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7 Whitewater Rafting Tips for First-Timers

BY: Editors | Aug 10, 2018

I'm a lazy vacation kind of person. You know, eat, read, repeat. It wasn't until this summer that I learned some people actually like to participate in activities while on vacation. This is how I found myself whitewater rafting down the Nantahala River in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Despite being woefully unprepared, I lived to tell the tale and am here to share some whitewater rafting tips for any first-timers out there.

1. Bring the right shoes.

I haven't owned a pair of water shoes in years. I learned, very quickly, that in the world of whitewater rafting this makes me an anomaly. You aren't allowed to wear shoes without back straps (aka flip-flops) because it's highly likely that they will be floating down the river before your run is over. I didn't know that then, but as a result I am now a proud owner of a pair of overpriced, royal blue water shoes that I wouldn't bet on getting a second use. Be sure to bring the right footwear.

2. Ditch the cotton.

The more waterproof your clothing is, the better. Even if it's 90 degrees and sunny, being soaking wet from cold river water will get pretty old even after only five minutes. Opt for dry-fit material, especially for your shirt, so that even while wet, you aren't being weighed down or freezing.

3. Wear a bathing suit.

I suppose that I didn't truly understand the concept of whitewater rafting beforehand because I was the only person in my group (and in my field of vision) who wasn't wearing a bathing suit. And though the fabric of my attire was appropriate given the circumstances, I'll leave you with two words: wet underwear. Learn from me.

4. Bring a towel.

This should go without saying, and yet most people think they'll be dry by the time they return to land. Though that's possible, you don't want to spend the ride home shivering. Make sure you have a towel to dry off.

5. Leave the sunglasses in the car.

Unless you have anti-slip grip hooks. Otherwise, you can bet that their new home will be at the bottom of the river.

6. Pick your seat carefully.

Every whitewater rafting experience is determined by two things: the conditions of the river and where you're sitting in the raft. Since I was a first-timer, I chose the front to get the full experience. Note: the front also has to do the most work. If you'd rather not see the thrashing rapids, be pelted with cold water, and/or would prefer less paddle work, the back row is for you.

7. Think of the photos.

You know the ones. Nearly every whitewater rafting company has a spot on the course where they snap some action shots. Although you can't predict where or when they will occur, I will leave you with this piece of information. For the people in the front row, these are like paparazzi pictures. So, if you want, this could be your chance to shine. Also, they make for hilarious holiday cards.