OBJECTIVE OF RAFTING: Maneuver an inflatable raft through rough waters to reach the finish line in the fastest time possible.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2-8 players per raft
MATERIALS: Raft, paddles/oars, oar locks, safety gear
TYPE OF GAME: Sport
OVERVIEW OF RAFTING
Rafting (raft racing) is an extreme water sport that involves a team of people maneuvering an inflatable raft down fast-moving water. This is no joyride, however, as recreational and competitive rafting always takes place on rivers with fast-moving, shallow whitewater, river rapids. As an extreme sport, the risk of serious injury or death is part of the experience.
The history of rafting coincides with the first planned and recorded trip down the Snake River in Wyoming. Unfortunately, this attempt to traverse the rough whitewater river ended before it even began, with the organizers determining it was simply too dangerous.
In the 1840s, there were multiple failed attempts to survey the Snake River using inflatable rubber rafts. However, it wouldn’t be until 100 years later, in the 1940s, that an appropriate rubber raft would see commercial use on the Snake River.
Thanks to technological advancements that have mostly perfected the design and safety of inflatable rafts, whitewater rafting has become an immensely popular outdoor recreational activity. With rivers being categorized by the difficulty and intensity of their water, there is always a suitable challenge for everyone for ever rafting trip!
As a competitive sport, rafting is still somewhat in its infancy. While whitewater canoe (and kayak) slalom are featured events in the Summer Olympics, there have been no inflatable raft events ever held at the Olympics. There is, however, a World Rafting Championship held every two years that attracts top talent from every corner of the planet, and the sport is overlooked by the International Rafting Federation.
- Raft: Distinct from kayaks and canoes, rafts are always made out of inflatable rubber, advanced nylon, or kevlar-infused plastics. This inflatable design keeps the raft intact after hitting large rocks in shallow waters. Rafts also feature drain holes from which water can leave the boat to avoid being weighed down.
- Paddles/Oars: Paddles are often used by recreational rafters and in shallower waters. Oars are much longer and more effective than paddles, although they have a high likelihood of being damaged when used in shallow water due to their length.
- Oar Locks: Oar locks/pins attach to the side of a raft and keep an oar in place. This provides the rafter with much more leverage and allows them to move the oars in ways that would be otherwise extremely difficult on a moving raft.
- Safety Gear: The dangerous nature of whitewater rafting requires all participants to wear a life jacket to avoid drowning, and a helmet in case they hit their head on a rock in the rough and shallow water.
- Shoes: Everyone in the rafting community needs proper river shoes for safe rafting trips. River rafting is an adventure sport, so the proper grip is needed.
EVENTS & SCORING
The World Rafting Championships include three total events. Each event is worth a certain amount of points, with all three events being worth a combined maximum score of 300 points.
The number of points awarded to a team depends on their placement in the event:
- 1st Place – 100% of points
- 2nd Place – 90% of points
- 3rd Place – 80% of points
- 4th Place – 75% of points
- 5th Place – 70% of points
- 6th–30th Place – Points range from 68% (6th) to 20% (30th). Each placement below 5th results in 2–3% fewer points
1) Sprint/RX – Worth 120 maximum points (1st place = 120, 2nd place = 108)
The first event held in every rafting competition, the sprint is a short race with a maximum course length of 600 meters. This event is divided into two phases: the individual timed sprint and the head-to-head knockout round.
The individual timed sprint involves each team racing down the course separately, vying to get the fastest finishing time. A team’s performance in this race determines their placement/seeding in the following knockout round.
Competitors are then seeded into an elimination-style knockout round. Each team must complete the sprint course a second time, although this time in a head-to-head race against another team. The team that wins the head-to-head matchup moves on to the next round, while the losing team is eliminated and placed according to the round they made it to and their finishing time in that round. Finally, the losers of the semi-finals round will compete to determine the 3rd and 4th place rankings.
2) Slalom – Worth 100 maximum points (1st place = 100, 2nd place = 90)
The slalom event is the most technical rafting event and requires teams to traverse down a whitewater course while passing through marked gates. Just like in the Olympic event of canoe slalom, there are gates that must be passed through downstream and others upstream (green for downstream; red for upstream).
Missing a gate or touching the gate in any capacity results in penalties being enforced on a team’s final finishing time.
3) Downriver – Worth 80 maximum points (1st place = 80, 2nd place = 72)
Downstream is generally considered rafting’s marquee event and involves each team racing down a two- to four-mile course through whitewater rapids. Teams compete for the fastest finishing time, with most runs often taking over an hour to finish.
RIVER DIFFICULTY CLASSIFICATIONS
The International Scale of River Difficulty determines the difficulty level of every whitewater river. The tamest of these rivers are most often used for recreational purposes, while the most extreme of these are reserved for elite competitors or completely avoided.
- Class I – Minor rough patches, primarily calm waters
- Class II – Moderate rough water, patches of large rocks
- Class III – Small waves, small drops possibly present
- Class IV – Whitewater, moderate-sized waves, large drops, rock hazards
- Class V – Whitewater, large waves, extreme rock hazards, large drops
- Class VI – Extremely dangerous rapids that carry an exponentially higher risk of injury or death than other classes; not fit for rafting in most instances
MOST DANGEROUS WHITEWATER RAFTING SPOTS IN THE WORLD
Here are some of the best (and most dangerous) whitewater spots in the world.
- Inga Rapids on the Congo River in The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Terminator Rapids on the Rio Futaleufú in Chile
- God’s House on the Karnali River in Nepal
- Whirlpool Rapids Gorge on the Niagara River in New York
END OF GAME
The team who holds the highest combined point total of the three events wins the competition.