Our team (currently) consists of five paddlers, and we all have a very different story of how we got into the rafting. It is fair to say we have all travelled the world and for some we are where we are due to the sport of rafting. Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing our adventures, through some short articles about raft guiding, raft racing, and our favourite rafting rivers, so hopefully you'll be inspired and excited can start your own! First up, how on earth do you become a raft guide in the first place?
I became a raft guide instead of finishing my degree in languages, in hind sight I could have probably done both, with the irony being that being a raft guide means you can work all over the world and learn many languages on the way. I became a raft guide at Lee Valley White Water Centre, I completed a 3 day training course, then after five months of practice and eventually being allowed to be let loose with ‘real’ clients (the training process often means learning with a lot of other trainees, and other members of staff) I became a qualified BCU level 1 guide. Thereafter I went to North Wales to Canolfan Tryweryn, and the river Dee to become a guide here.
The following couple of years I went on training courses in the French Alps and guided on some great rivers, gained trip leader experience, and my Level 2 guide qualification. Since then I have greatly enjoyed working around the UK and even done a bit of raft guiding and oar boating on various rivers in Nepal. Being a raft guide is such good fun, meeting new people every day and being outside in the most beautiful areas. It’s a physical job, and you have to love that element to it, however it is a really rewarding role often with an ace social side with your colleagues and clients. You don’t have to have much water experience to become a guide, you can find a training course at most centres around the UK and the cost is about £250. To become a fully qualified guide you will need to do a white water safety and rescue course, have a first aid certificate, and be a member of your national governing body, not forgetting a love for the river, and a little patience to build up your experience before your assessment. Of course I would highly recommend it!
I first became a raft guide whilst at Uni, and had my first experiences on the River Tay in Scotland, before getting my qualification at the white water course in Nottingham. I spent two great summers working there, having loads of fun. The best part about rafting there was all the playing we got to do in the rafts, which gives you lots of flip practice and confidence.
It also meant you could go kayaking lots, which was always the reason I became a raft guide, as I just wanted to be able to go kayaking in lots of different places, and being a raft guide seemed a perfect way to do this.
Next stop for me was Austria, and I spent two years working out there in a great place - Pfunds, with an amazing group of guides and paddlers. Everyone was into kayaking, so when we weren't on the river working in rafts, we were out kayaking. It was a great place to learn how to raft on bigger, faster rivers, as well as having to complete the Austrian guide license and learn the safety brief and all the commands in German!
From here, I then went on to spend two summers working as a raft and kayak guide in Eastern Turkey, mainly on the River Coruh. This was great as we did multi-day trips and had groups of clients coming out from the UK. It is such a beautiful part of the world, with amazing locals who are so friendly, and the rivers were incredible. I feel really lucky to have worked out there for those summers, as a lot of the river has now been damned and lost, which is a great shame.
Studying Outdoor Sport Management in the Netherlands, my first introduction to White Water Sports was at Uni. After kayak and rafting courses I got a job as an instructor for a Dutch outdoor company in the French Alps. I loved live in the French alps. Six weeks a year on a campsite between the mountains, lakes and rivers. In the week we would take people on rafting trips. Full day trips with a picnic half way, showing people that the greatest way to view the world is from the water. Navigating difficult white water, challenging myself and my crew and playing games and having fun with costumers on the flat parts of the river. The rafting did not finish on the river but in the bar afterwards where stories between customers and staff were shared. In the weekend it was time for us as instructors to enjoy the alps to the fullest. Exploring rivers in a raft, climbing, windsurfing, cannoning and biking. The adventures and friends gained are priceless!
With a little whitewater experience you can pick up raft guiding any time. In the UK you can do your British Canoeing approved level one raft guide course (just Google it) in England, Wales and Scotland with a range of instructors. A completed course will allow you to work in any centre in the UK, however you might need to so a site specific assessment. Most of the centres in the UK can offer you work from April to October time. There are contract options and casual options available.
Working abroad is perhaps THE way to make most of your raft guide skills and qualifications! The most companies recognise the IRF raft guiding scheme. The IRF 2 and 3 are usually good for you to work on rivers up to white water grade 3. This document will tell you more about the type of qualifications. You can do the raft guide training in the UK or abroad (check here for dates: www.internationalrafting.com/gte/courses). Best time a year to find work depends on where you are going. Quite a few raft guides make a fulltime job out of rafting in summer and skiing/snowboarding in winter. If you want to work in a particular country please contact a local rafting company first to see when they have got work and what qualification you need! Another important point to mention, all qualification schemes require an first aid certificate.