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Things to Know Before You Go: Paddling 101

March 27, 2015

When you take a white water trip with Raft Outdoor Adventures, you’ll have a great time navigating river rapids! All our trips down the Upper and Lower Pigeon River are guided, but we want everyone who spends time with us to leave more knowledgeable about rafting than when they arrived.

A lot of groups have never rafted before, but that shouldn’t discourage you from joining us on the river! This post will cover some nautical terms and paddle strokes you’ll use on your trip. When you’re ready to raft with Outdoor Adventures, you’ll be able to raft like a pro!

Paddling 101

Getting to know your raft: While you’re sitting in your raft, you’ll be facing the front. The front of a raft is the "bow", and the back of the raft is called the "stern". While other watercraft may use "port" and "starboard" in place of "left" and "right", we just refer to either side as "river left" and "river right" as you're facing the bow, heading downstream. Knowing these terms helps your guide communicate with you while you're on the water to move the raft in the right direction. While much of the raft’s steering will be done by your guide, every passenger needs to participate to move the raft effectively downriver. There are six basic strokes we teach everyone before we head out on our trips.

Forward and Backward: We’re including these together here because they’re simple and probably the most intuitive of the strokes we’ll cover. You’ve probably already guessed what they mean! To move the boat forward, the blade of the paddle (the widest part of the paddle that actually goes into the water) is pulled through the water towards you. Be careful to pull the paddle straight back, because a curved path will cause the boat to turn. To paddle backward, you’ll do almost the same thing as paddling forward, but push the paddle away from you. This stroke is used to stop the raft or reverse it.


Pry: The pry stroke is used to move the raft in the opposite direction of the paddling side. For example, using a pry stroke on the starboard side (right side) of your raft will move the boat left, to port. For a pry stroke, you’ll want to put your paddle blade in the water so that the handle is perpendicular to the river, and the widest side of the blade is parallel to the raft. You’ll then push the paddle outward, away from the raft.

Draw: The draw stroke is the opposite of a pry stroke. You’ll place the paddle blade in the water, perpendicular to the raft and pull it towards you. This will move the boat in the direction of the paddling side.

J-Stroke: The J-stroke is named for the way the paddle moves in the water on the port side. The stroke begins like a normal forward paddle, but is rotated and pushed away from the raft at the end of the stroke. Your guide will most likely use this stroke to keep your raft on track through sections of the rapids.

Goon: Using the goon stroke, also known as the rudder stroke, your guide will act as your raft’s rudder, steering it downriver. As mentioned, you are the powerhouse, moving the boat downriver, but your guide will use his or her paddle to direct the raft. That’s not to say that you can’t use this stroke, too! The goon stroke is essentially a forward stroke with a small pry at the end, to keep your raft moving in a straight line. This stroke is less effective in calm water, but will work perfectly in the Pigeon River rapids!

While this may seem a bit overwhelming, Raft Outdoor Adventures won’t send you into the river unprepared! All of our guides are specially trained to be able to handle the rafts effectively, and to be able to successfully instruct your raft group with everything you need to know. You’ll see these paddle strokes demonstrated first-hand before and during your trip. When you leave, you’ll be on your way to becoming a seasoned paddler! Book your trip down the Pigeon River today - the white water awaits!

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