4. SCOUT THE HAZARDS
You’re floating along smoothly until you reach a stretch of whitewater. Before plunging in, follow these steps: >> Pull to shore and suss out any rapids rated at the upper end of your ability or that you won’t be able to see on the approach. >> Look for hazards that may flip you or pin you underwater, like a downed tree across the river (aka, a strainer) and any boulder with a large wave piling up on its upstream side (signaling a hydraulic that can trap you). >> Break down the run into individual moves, and ask yourself whether you can pull off all of them in succession. >> Consider the consequences of getting ejected. Do the rapids flush into a gentle pool, for example, or over a giant waterfall? >> Learn to recognize and turn into eddies—stretches of calm water usually found along riverbanks, but also sometimes on the downstream side of large boulders. When the current below a boulder “smiles” at you (looking like a ‘U’ to the boater), it usually indicates a safe eddy, but a “frown” signals a dangerous recirculating hydraulic, which can trap you.