Split Mountain. Photo by Rachel Graehl

Big water might be over but skill-sharing is always on. Manning (or womanning) a boat by yourself is really fun, but we believe the saying goes “two is better than one.”

We find this to be true, especially in rafting circumstances. Having a good rafting partner is like a good marriage: you must be patient and have awesome communication skills.

So, how do you teach someone to load up and take the seat beside you in a raft?

Jake Castle – CKS Online Content Manager, former guide, private boater.

Photo by Jessie Gunter

In a normal paddle crew environment, you’re only as good as your crew is. In a paddle crew, there is a division of responsibility. One person throwing a poorly timed stroke won’t place you off your line, and in a paddle crew you can build up speed closer to a hit and trust your guide to be responsible for T-ing up accordingly.

R2 is the most fun you will ever have fun in a raft, but it has a lot of nuance that needs attention. In an R2 you are both the guide and the power, and therefore there’s less forgiveness for mistakes.

A salient point to remember is that R2 crews generally hold less weight than a paddle crew. Two people can operate best in a 10.5′ to 12′ boat with low volume (larger boats are harder to maneuver with just two people). Because there is so little weight in the vessel, you’re much more prone to flip. At max, you’re looking at 550 to 600 pounds when going into a big wave versus potentially several thousand pounds when going into a big wave with a paddle crew or an oar rig. Catarafts are the most forgiving. Any raft over 13′ starts to get hard to R2 just because of the overall volume of the boat combined with the lack of weight in the boat.

When R2’ing you’ll need to generate forward speed and make sure that you don’t deflect from the angle you’re going to hit that wave or hole with. This is a challenging thing to learn. Two people are going to paddle differently, based on their body shape, experience, and how much levers they put on the water with the paddle. It’s rare to have two people R2’ing that are going to provide the same amount of power with each paddle. It’s inevitable you’re going to kick the boat all over the place, and your line will need to be corrected with even more strokes.

For learning r2, you’ll need to adopt a mindset that everything you do needs to be “just enough” without being overkill. This is true for technical whitewater boating in general, but it’s especially true for r2.

To figure out what “just enough” is, you and your partner will quickly need to understand what your limitations are as a paddle team are. This means figuring out who is the stronger paddler. The stronger partner needs to recognize their strength and dial it back to their partner’s level, so the boat isn’t constantly deflecting against it’s intended line.

In an R2 it is very important to always keep an eye on your partner and paddle at the exact same time. Again, you’re trying to be synchronized when trying to take a forward stroke so you can maintain good speed when crushing your line.

Much of my experience in R2 comes from Catarafts, specifically on the AIRE Sabertooth. Boats like this don’t have alot of volume. Because of my 10+ years of experience in whitewater, I tend to be the stronger paddler in an R2 situation. Therefore, I track as much as possible and call as few commands with my partner. When I need the power to get through a big hit or make it around a feature, I start to call out more commands with specific numbers: “let me get 2 strokes” “let me get 3 big paddles” “all forward, hard.”

Victoria Ohegyi, CKSO Marketing Manager

Nolichucky River. Photo by Victoria Ohegyi.

There are two styles of R2 boating. It will come down to how much of a guide the primary boater is, and also, how much experience the two people have together R2’ing.

You basically have one person leading, and another person doing what they’re told. The latter paddler doesn’t really react and paddle until the primary boater tells them to. To be clear, I am usually the latter type of paddler.

If you’re the primary person (also the stronger paddler), you’ll need to set up way early and let the river do most of the work. When you need help, only call out commands and a numbered amount of strokes “give me two” “give me one.” To echo what Jake said, everything you throw in an R2 needs to be “just enough”

When you have someone on the other side of your boat always trying to anticipate where to go and when to paddle (especially if you don’t have experience with that person or if that person doesn’t have innate experience reading whitewater from another sport) then you’re going to constantly be fighting the person you’re trying to paddle with. For example, they can throw a pry that might erode all the speed you’ve been gaining and this can totally throw you off.

As you get better with that partner, communication starts to change. It goes from numbered commands mentioned above to “we need to get left of this feature” or “we’re going to take the center line.” You start to talk about your line and where you’re going as opposed to the strokes needed to get there.

Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you’ll eventually have limited conversation, and a lot less yelling. You’ll start to get to the point where you’re just rafting, and not really worried about what your partner might do because you’re on the same page.

Really good R2 conversations sound like this: “Sleeper on the right” “Yup” and you’ll both know you’ll need to go left of that feature.

It’s never going to be perfect because your minds aren’t connected. Paying attention to your line is important and trying to make decisions early enough upstream gives you and your partner time to correct if you’re somehow not on the same page.

Basic Tips when R2’ing with a Novice:

Shoshone Section, Colorado River. Photo by Victoria Ohegyi

Generally, we recommend R2’ing with people who have experience in whitewater. But! If they don’t, here are some basic tips (outside of wearing the correct safety gear, which we should all do all the time) to remember when R2’ing with a new paddler.

  • Have them be responsible for pumping the raft while you be responsible for checking/topping off the pressure. This gives your partner a sense of autonomy and gives you a chance to not focus on everything as the guide
  • **Have your partner practice getting in and out of the boat with a PFD on, without help
  • **Have your partner practice helping you get back into the boat
  • Teach your partner basic throw bag skills
  • Give a guide style safety talk that addresses basic whitewater swimming (defensive swim position), what to do if you fall in the water (get to the boat or swim to an eddy), and reviews what not to do (throwbag, no standing in the water)
  • Be prepared to be making all the maneuvering strokes yourself, unless you can communicate effectively when calling commands to your crew
  • Know that less is more
  • Understand that it’s sometimes easier for someone to throw a backstroke than a forward stroke
  • Talk your way through the river so your partner sees what you see – explain basic terms like: “river left” “river right” “hole” “feature” “strainer” “sieve” “undercut”
  • Don’t force your partner out of their comfort zone. You want to instill confidence, not fear
  • Be patient and stay positive
  • Have fun

**Sometimes, certain runs provide no opportunity for you to safely practice these skills. If that’s the case, you may want to practice basic river maneuvers before jumping into this section with a novice paddler.

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