Whitewater Rafting for Spring Challenge

If you haven’t done Spring Challenge before here’s how the raft stage normally works. Traditionally there’s a mad dash off the start line - a crowd of women clad in wetsuits, helmets and running shoes, stampedes along the track to the army of rafts lined up along the riverbank. There are 2 teams*, so 6 people, plus a dedicated professional guide for each raft. It’s first-in first-served to the rafts (the guides are there waiting for you), you throw on lifejackets (also provided), corral another team to join you, jump in and away you go! If that sounds like pure chaos to you, then you’re right! But it’s so much fun and an exhilarating way to kick off the event.

*This is the case for Spring Challenge South - if someone can update me on how the 4 person option works in the North edition that would be great!

Rafting stage at Geraldine 2017. Photo credit: Matt Searles, Green Man Creative.

Here are my top 3 tips to put you in the best position for nailing the whitewater rafting stage – even if you’ve never rafted before.

Whitewater rafting is a bit difficult to train for specifically, but anything you can do to improve your upper body and core strength, and building strong upper body endurance, will go a long way to helping you paddle well on the day. It can be as simple as doing press ups, planks, or Swiss ball workouts at home while you’re waiting for the jug to boil. Maybe there are circuit training or box fit classes in your area that you can join to help whip those biceps and abs into shape. If you kayak, SUP, or swim this will also stand you in good stead.

When you hit some calm water take the opportunity to check out the scenery.

The Spring Challenge course designers often send us to amazing places!

There IS a technique to whitewater raft paddling - however I’m no expert! I can’t explain to you exactly how it works, but essentially you want to use your entire upper body to paddle – not just your arms. Correct whitewater rafting paddle technique will prevent the “Oh wow, my arms are going to fall off!” feeling. A quick Google or Youtube search along the lines of “whitewater raft forward paddle technique” will help you figure out how it’s all supposed to play out on race day. Don’t scare yourself by disappearing down a whitewater rafting rabbit hole on YouTube - the rivers are normally rated Grade 2-3 and your guide (one to every raft) is great at what they do!

Which beeeautiful river will we be paddling this year?!

The run from the start line to the rafts is also something to put some thought towards. In previous years it has been a distance between 1 and 4 kilometres – all in a wetsuit. Running around the block in a wetsuit to train for this section probably isn’t appealing. But I would recommend spending some time moving around in your wetsuit – even if it’s just some raft paddle simulation in the living room while everyone else is out. It’s better to discover now what’s uncomfortable rather than having problems with rubbing and chafing on race day. If you want to be competitive then this run is key to put yourself in a good position for the rest of the day. Getting to the rafts quickly means you’ll likely share a raft with another team that is also keen to paddle hard on the raft stage.

GEAR . . I made a few suggestions about wetsuits in the Gear for Spring Challenge article here. Here’s a summary, plus a few extra hints.

  • Make do with the wetsuit you already have. If you don’t own one, do whatever you can to borrow one, maybe buy a cheap one, or even try your luck at hiring one from a surf shop.

  • Wear extra layers if you’re sensitive to the cold, especially if you’re in one of the early start waves. Cold air and cold water can take the fun-shine out of it a bit! Try thermals underneath or wetsuit, or a jacket over top.

  • Keep those fingers warm! Waterproof gloves if you have them, or thin thermal gloves with dishwashing gloves over top works a treat.

The raft section is an absolute blast. Go forth and discover your awesome inner paddler!

Itching for more handy tips and insights to help you on your Spring Challenge adventure? Oodles of 'how does this work...?' or 'what do I need...?' questions floating around in your head? I've been working on something that might be just what you're after . . . stay tuned!! ;)