Telling someone the line down a rapid is an art. The ability to convey your knowledge of a river vocally can transform a day on the water, often making it safer, quicker and more fun. That said, it isn’t an easy job.
Keep it short
Our short term memory can only hold a few pieces of information and only for a little while before the information is lost. I try to condense any rapid into a few key points to get right and give those to the kayakers I am with, any more than three or four points and I will advocate scouting the rapid or for good, confident kayakers, following me closely down the rapid.
Find the common ground
Before getting on a river with someone I will always ask what their home run is and what other rivers they have kayaked. Often times I can convey a line to them by comparing it to a line or a style of rapid that they have kayaked before.
Know your people
Everyone is different, some are brave and bold and others are more cautious and timid. It’s import to know that each personality type comes with it’s own advantages and disadvantages and that you may have to adapt your beta to suit different people. Also, know your group’s fitness level and maybe add in an an extra eddy or two for them to catch their breath.
Keep it positive
I remember being terrified of the rapids on the river Dee when I was young because the ‘leader’ of the trip had spent the morning scare mongering and telling stories of accidents and close calls on Town Falls. We are all out on the water to have a good time, not to be scared and put off going again. So let people know about the hazards on the river don’t take them lightly, but rather than talking up what will happen if you go into the siphon you should instead say how to avoid it and let the group decide if they want to scout or portage.
Many a time when being shown down a river for the first time I have been sweeping in the back of the group. When we get to the bottom of the rapid I am the last to arrive in the eddy and I find that half the beta has already been given and the rest of the group is about to move downstream. Leaving me with little to go off as I drop into the next rapid. I personally make sure I have all the group in the eddy before giving any beta.
If you’re leading a group down a river and your memory falters, get out and have a look. Nobody will blame you for wanting to be sure about something before dropping the group into it. It doesn’t mean everyone needs to get out, that would slow things down considerably, but one person hopping out quickly for a peek never adds much time.
This is for the people being led down the river. If you are not sure, ask. Most importantly river hazards are continually changing and if you notice water doing something strange or a tree in the river you need to make the rest of the crew aware of this, regardless of who is leading. Strict hierarchy has caused many an issue in other fields but with such chilled, friendly people as your fellow kayaker there is no need for this to happen.
If you are asking someone to show you down a river in the car park and you have not met them before, be sure that you can in fact kayak down that grade of water. My goodwill to showing people down rivers has been dented over the past few years by people trying to paddle above their grade and not being honest with themselves or me about their ability beforehand. It doesn’t mean I won’t show new people down rivers anymore, it just means I ask for more information about the kayaker before agreeing to it.
Creating, passing on and receiving knowledge of a river is a special process. Enjoy it and have a great time on the water! Bren