White water rafting is one of the most popular adrenalin activities in the world, and millions of people put their paddling prowess to the test by taking on some of the wildest, white water stretches they can find. The main reason people choose to take on the challenge of white water rafting is to experience the rush of racing down fast flowing water, negotiating rocks and rapids as they go. However in its formative years rafting served a much more practical purpose, a million miles away from the adrenalin fuelled white water sport many people recognise it as today.
In the 1840′s United States Army officer Lt. John Fremont and inventor Horace H. Day created the first rubber river raft. Their primitive but revolutionary raft was made from four rubber cloth tubes and a wraparound floor. They made their first successful voyage in 1842 when they used their raft to survey parts of the Rocky mountains which were only accessible by boat.
As rafting slowly gained in popularity it became more viable as a business opportunity and in an attempt to capitalise on its growth John D. Rockefeller Jr. constructed a hotel in the Gran Tenton national park Wyoming. In the late 1950′s the lodge started offering trips down the river in surplus war rafts which were 8ft wide and over 20ft long. The trips were so popular that rival rafting companies started to spring up across the United States, offering rides down some of the fastest and most thrilling stretches of water in the country.
White water rafting grew in popularity throughout the 60′s and 70′s and in 1972 it was included to the Olympic Games held in Munich. In 1997 the international federation of rafting was established and the first international white water rafting championships were held in 1999. The introduction of an international governing body meant rafting became much more strongly regulated and as a result safety improved. The information available to rafters also improved and rivers were graded 1-6 using the International Scale of River Difficulty designed to reflect the technical difficulty and skill level required to navigate a section of river. Rafters use this system to find out what kind of conditions they can expect to face on stretches of river they’ve never been down before.
Modern day white water rafting has changed dramatically and almost anybody can take to the water for the challenge of negotiating boulder strewn rapids and fast flowing water. There are rafting sites across the globe and its popularity continues to grow, especially in the UK. Scotland is home to some of the best and most difficult white water rafting routes in the world which may explain why it’s so popular. There are even artificial rafting sites with man made rapids that are tailor made to put a rafters paddling skills to the test. So whether you’re trying rafting for the first time or just want to hone your skills the perfect location could be closer than you think. It may have started out as a way of crossing treacherous stretches of water but the fun that can be had in a modern day rafting experience is second to none!