Whitewater Terminology

Awareness – Having a broader scope of vision that encompasses not just one self but the surroundings and other paddlers on the river.

Boil – This is a water feature created when water churns upward and creates an elevated region in the river.

Bony – A run or rapid requiring lots of maneuvering because of the abundance of obstacles, mostly rocks.

Boof – A boof is a maneuver where a kayaker uses his paddle, rock or water feature to lift the bow of the kayak over a drop, usually performed to avoid a piton or getting stuck in a hydraulic.

Bracing – Any paddle stroke that helps the paddler maintain his/her balance. The high and low brace are the most common bracing strokes but forward and turning strokes also work as bracing strokes in many situations.

C.F.S. – Cubic feet per second. A unit of water flow used to indicate the volume of water flowing per second past any given point along a river.

Carabiner – A clip, used to secure items into the boat, and to construct safety and rescue systems.

Carnage – General term for a mishap, as in a boat flipping or someone falling out.

Confluence– The point where two or more rivers meet.

Control Hand– Refers to the hand that controls the angle of the paddle blade.

Drop – An abrupt descent in a river. A pitch.

Downstream“V”– Describes the shape of the current when it passes between two obstacles. The V points downstream and could be further delineated by wave trains.

Dry Suit – A suit designed to keep all water out, under which any amount of layered clothing can be worn.

Duckie (or ducky) – An inflatable kayak.

Eddy – A river feature formed by an obstacle in the downstream flow. A well formed eddy will have a defined eddy line and a calm pool behind the obstacle. Being able to “catch” or stop in these calm pools is one of the keystones of whitewater paddling.

Eddy Out – Term used to describe leaving the main current and entering an eddy.

Eddy Line – A current differential between the upstream current of the eddy and the downstream current of the main flow of the river.

Ender – A play maneuver enacted by nosing the boat’s bow down and deep and the stern up, which results in the boat popping vertically upward. Good fun!!

Ferry – The act of crossing a section of river without going downstream by maintaining a boat angle.

Gauge – Measures river volume in feet (physical height of the water in the river), cubic feet per second (CFS) which is the amount of water passing that particular spot on the river. A visual representation of this is to imagine that the water in the river is made up of basketballs thus the CFS in this case would be the number of basketballs passing a given spot in a second. A higher CFS means more water in the river. Can also be measured in meters per second (MTS).

Grab Loop – Loops placed in the front and back of a kayak typically used to carry the boat or tie it down to a vehicle. Grab loops can also be utilized to rescue swimmers by giving them a place to hold onto while you tow them to shore.

Gradient – The “steepness” of a river, measured in feet of elevation loss per mile of river.

Haystacks – A large standing wave caused by deceleration of current.

Headwall – Steep cliff where the main channel of the river drives against it at a 90-degree angle.

Highside! – The act of jumping to the “high side” when coming up against an obstacle sideways in a raft. When executed properly, it can help prevent a wrap or a flip.

Hole – Where water flowing over a rock or other obstacle flows down, then back onto itself in an eruption of whitewater.

Horizon Line – Usually indicates that the river gradient has dropped implying rapids, falls, or drop ahead.

Hydraulic – Also known as a hole, is a river feature where water drops over a obstruction (rock ledge or a rock) into deeper water on the downstream side. This causes water on the surface to be drawn back toward the rock or ledge. This can be a potentially hazardous feature but it could also be a feature used for playboating. Low head dam’s are the most dangerous example of a hydraulic.

Hypothermia – A serious physical condition caused by a lowering of the core body temperature.

Peel Out – Term used to describe leaving an eddy and entering the main current; bow catches the main current and quickly swings the boat downstream.

PFD – Personal Flotation Device. Otherwise known as a life jacket.

Pillow – Pillow
is the water that builds up on the upstream side of an obstruction.

Portage – To carry the boats around a rapid or obstacle.

Put-in – The starting point of a river trip where boats are put into the river.

River Left – The left-hand side of the river when looking downstream. When downstream looking upstream it is on your right.

River Right – The right-hand side of the river when looking downstream. When downstream looking upstream it is on your left.

Roll – A maneuver that will right a kayak after it has been turned upside down. There are many types of rolls – C to C, the Sweep Roll, Hands Roll and the Back Deck Roll.

Roostertail – Spray of water that explodes off a submerged rock or obstacle.

Safety Talk – A pre-trip talk to learn about safety on the river to maximize awareness.

Shuttle – The most dangerous part of the trip. Driving between the put-in and take-out. One-vehicle shuttles require logistical foresight using options such as biking, walking, hitchhiking, etc., to return to the put-in.

Sit-On-Top Kayak – As the name would suggest, the paddler sits on top of the ‘sit-on-top’ kayak rather than inside a cockpit.

Surf– A surf is a maneuver in which a paddler stays on a wave or in a hole. Can be done on purpose or by accident.

Spray Skirt – A neoprene or nylon accessory that fits around the waist of the paddler and the cockpit lip of a canoe or kayak for a watertight closure.

Standing Waves (also known as wave trains) – Standing waves are associated with constricted areas of water most commonly called Downstream V’s. Water can only be pushed out downstream so fast so the water pushes upward into waves.

Strainer – An opening or openings where water can flow through, but a solid object such as a person or boat cannot. Usually formed by trees on the banks, or by rocks on top of one another with water flowing through them. A serious hazard!

Sweep Guide – This guide stays at the rear of the trip.

Take-out – River access where a trip ends

Technical – This describes the character of a rapid that requires skillful maneuvering because of frequent obstructions. Also describes specific, difficult-to-master paddling techniques.

Throw Bag – A rope made out of either poly or spectra rope that is flaked into a stuff sack that makes it easily stored.

Tongue – The smooth “v” of fast water found at the head of rapids.

Trip Leader – A Guide designated to oversee the smooth running of a trip.

Undercut – Overhanging rock or ledge with water flowing underneath it. A serious hazard!

Upstream “V” – Found on either side of a downstream “V” which represents the shape an eddy makes. Obstacles on both right and left will create downstream “V’s” and those obstacles create eddies.

Waterfall – A major drop in a riverbed, usually over six feet in height.

Wet Suit – A close-fitting garment of neoprene foam that provides thermal insulation in cold water.

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