How To Talk Like A Raft Guide

Jessica Lewis Info, Rafting, Uncategorized

Have you ever been on a river and heard your guide throw around the words sleeper, wrap, hole, eddy, pour-over and been instinctively aware that they weren’t actually talking about that yummy chicken spinach wrap you have waiting in your car, but something else entirely? Well kudos to you for picking up on the strange nomenclature of the river. We, as guides, have names for everything. It allows us to keep detailed mental reports of every rapid and nuance in the river. For example a mere rock will change first to a sleeper, then a pour-over, then a hole, and finally a wave as the river rises and that will directly effect how a guide will run the rapid. Awesome, but so what?

Maybe you are the type who can happily float along and paddle when commanded, taking in the scenery and marveling in the majestic Colorado landscape surrounding you. I admire you. I think life must be simpler and perhaps more harmonious. I however am not content with following commands and enjoying the river and taking everything at face value, it just isn’t my style. Maybe that is why I guide. I am someone who must know the details, the nitty gritty, of what is going on. I assume on every trip I take that at least one similar person is in my boat, and as such, I have a tendency to explain everything that is happening out on the water. It isn’t too unusual for me to be met with glassy eyed stares as I talk about the lateral waves, or the boilers. So in an attempt to add clarity for those nerds out there who want it, here is a limited list of words with raft guide definitions.

Rock – a large solid object made from hardened sand that may inadvertently send the boat into wild cartwheels through the water. To be avoided or at best rammed into at full force for maximum entertainment.

Sleeper – a rock slightly underneath the surface of the water. May cause clients to doze as the guide spends hours attempting to dislodge the raft from its place of interminable repose on top of the rock. Very easy to get stuck.

Pour-over – when water falls steeply over a rock in the river it will create a pour-over. Water is “pouring over” the top of the rock. Typically a feature to be avoided as it may tip your boat over.

Hole – water likes to be flat and is constantly trying to move into a state of equilibrium. As a result it often acts in strange ways, attempting to fill in vacant space. A hole is when water rushes over a rock and then some of the water returns back up stream, curling in on itself (think like an ocean wave breaking), trying to fill in the gap it just left on the backside of the rock. These features can be very fun, but once powerful enough, can also flip a boat over since it acts as such a strong breaking mechanism.

Wave – waves can be standing, exploding, rooster tailed, or in a train. Waves are the equivalent of getting on a roller coaster ride without a seatbelt.

Eddy – as previously mentioned water tries to lie flat. When it goes around a bend in the river, or around a rock, it leaves a vacuum. The water will then accommodatingly flow back up stream in order to fill the empty space. Eddies are everyones best friend. They are the “rest” spots in the river and can provide a moment of reprieve, for either a guide trying to assess a rapid, or a tired swimmer to climb out of the water.

Eddyline – although it is also a popular brew pub here in the Arkansas Valley an eddyline, also known as eddyfence, is the distinguishing line between the current flowing downstream and the eddy flowing upstream.

Wrap – no I am not referring to your favorite lunch option but instead a boat plastered to a rock somewhere in the middle of the river. Boats are typically made from hypalon (think rubber) which allows them to float and flex in the water. This is an excellent feature for modern day rafts but if one of these pliable bendy boats strikes a rock sideways, and then has the misfortune of staying connected to the rock, it will actually wrap around it. Normally at this point, people have been flushed out of the boat by the water and have caught an eddy farther down stream, where they are patiently (or impatiently) waiting for their poor guide to figure out how to unstick their 14′ rubber floaty device from an object that has thousands of pounds of water pressure insisting they remain glued together in holy matrimony for the rest of eternity. A wrapped boat is not a happy boat.

Flip – rafts are multicolored and every company typically has their own unique color that distinguishes them in the river. One thing every boat has in common though is that it has a black floor.  I mean the part that usually only the fish see from underneath the raft in the water. When a raft flips the “black side” is no longer down and the fishies find they have some more company as they languidly float through the water.


I hope, dear reader, you feel enlightened and ready to engage your raft guide in some intellectual banter regarding the river. Feel free to whip out your newly acquired knowledge of river lingo and impress the others in your boat. Best of luck to you out there. Keep the black side down.