Often referred to as the “Birthplace of Rivers,” West Virginia boasts a heavy-hitting lineup of wild rivers that provide endless recreation opportunities for all who visit. Home to some of the most advanced whitewater east of the Mississippi, West Virginia’s numerous tributaries serve as a mecca for river runners ‘round the globe. After a deluge of heavy rains, it is common to see caravans of trucks and Subarus carrying plump blue rafts and colorful play boats racing to the river banks. Grinning from ear to ear, river rats jump out of their cars, paddles ready to go, eager to boof and surf in our wild and wonderful backyard.
Whether you’re about to embark on your first whitewater experience or you’re looking to immerse yourself into the world of whitewater, this article will help you navigate through the pillows and hopefully save you from looking like a total beater when you and your friends arrive to raft the Upper Gauley in September (see translations below).
- River Rat: An individual who dedicates 75% of their time and income to floating on or spending time near the river. River Rats usually have some type of boat strapped to the roof of their car, can be heard spewing river jargon on dry land, and are typically seen wearing sun-faded clothing and sporting funky tan lines.
- Boater Chick: A female boater. A boater chick is often revered by the perpetually single and often desperate state of the male boater population. They occasionally serve (unknowingly) as motivation for especially rash, spontaneous, or showy moves made on the river.
- Beater: Someone whose skill typically doesn’t match the rivers they paddle, resulting in that person getting worked and swimming a lot, usually in a comical way. Beaters can often be found on the side of the river draining their boat after swimming.
- Booties: Sock-like boots made of neoprene fabric that kayakers typically wear to keep their feet warm or dry.
- PFD: Personal Floatation Device. (You’ll sound like a total beater if you call it a “life jacket.”)
- Hard boat: Kayaks made of hard plastic that usually outfit a skirt to be attached onto the rim of the boat’s cockpit. It is often a general term used for a white-water kayak.
- Play boat: A kayak that is designed to allow boaters to easily surf and do freestyle tricks in the water.
- Roll: A self-rescue technique used by kayakers to resurface if their boat is flipped. Being able to roll a kayak is crucial if you want to reach old age.
- Skirt: Stretchy neoprene fabric worn around the waist of kayakers. Skirts connect to the boat’s cockpit and create a watertight seal.
- Wet Exit: When kayakers flip and cannot resurface, they “pull their skirts” to eject themselves from their boat and suffer the consequences of a swim.
- Class Ranking: Whitewater rapids are classified based on both the technical difficulty and the level of danger associated with the rapid. Rapid classification begins at Class I (flat water with few hazards) and ranges to Class VI (extremely difficult and highly dangerous)
- Eddy: A portion water that lies downstream from an obstruction, causing the water to slow and flow in the opposite direction. Eddys can serve as a calm pool for boaters to pull into after running a line.
- Eddy Fence: The discriminant line separating the downstream current from the upstream current of the eddy. Often blamed for throwing beaters out of a boat.
- Surf: The act of facing upstream, paddling into a standing hydraulic wave, and staying within its grip as long as you can. Surfing usually leads to swimmers and yard sales.
- Strainer: An obstacle in the river, often trees or other debris, that allow water to go through it, but catch larger objects, making them very dangerous.
- Undercut: Rocks that have withered below the surface of the river and are very dangerous for swimmers who can be sucked underneath, making it difficult to resurface and/or rescue
- Pillow: A frothy, voluptuous spout of water that closely resembles a soft pillow.
- Hole: A hydraulic formed when water pours over a submerged object causing the surface water to flow back upstream towards the object. Often used to go surfing or play boating, due to the recirculating water.
- Carnage: Any sort of unpleasant mayhem that a paddler or group of rafters finds themselves in. A favorite spectator sport for raft guides. Google search “Gauley Carnage” and enjoy
- Chundered: The act of being beat down in a hole or some other nasty feature. Also known as “getting worked.”
- Bootie Beer: A celebrated act of public shaming, a bootie beer is consumed by a boater after a wet exit. The swimmer must fill their bootie with beer and chug it, while their friends who saved them, their boat, and paddle from floating downstream, watch with enjoyment.
- Boof: The act of launching a boat off a river feature (usually rock or water) and landing flat on the hull of your boat. Boof is an onomatopoeia for the sound that is made by the landing boat. This maneuver is often seen as the pinnacle of fun in the boater world.
- Yard Sale: A situation that occurs when a boater swims and mayhem ensues with all of their belongings scattering and floating down river. A yard sale can also refer to a general situation involving multiple swimmers in a particular rapid at one time.
- Going to Church or Church: Used to describe the perfect, holy, and divine nature of a river, maneuver, rapid, or feature. Example: “That wave is Church as F**k!!”
- Lifestying: An essential part of the boater experience involving the social aspect of river running. Lifestyling can be done before putting on the river, mid-river, or post-river run (usually a combination of all three). This activity involves beer and talking about the river you are about to run or have just run.
Now that you have a better understanding of river jargon, join some river rats in lifestyling and enjoy surfing some gnarly pillows on any of West Virginia’s wild and wonderful whitewater!
Birdie Hawkins is a recent WVU graduate and freelance writer who is passionate about spending time outdoors, clean water, spontaneous dance parties, and rooting for Cleveland sports teams.