Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Adventure in an Alternative Water World

Me and the fam recently went white water river rafting on the South fork of the American River, a bit outside of Sacramento. For those of you who've never been, it's a rush and I recommend it highly. 

Looking at the river, I was struck by rafting's similarities to surfing. Obviously, the biggest similarity is the fact they're both done on water. From there though the similarities get a little bit more subtle. Like oceans, rivers are living, breathing things; they are always in motion. It's not surprising then that rafting, like surfing, is primarily about thrill seeking. There are periods of calm and waiting as you drift down the river between rapids, just as you'd sit in the lineup waiting for a set. In both instances, your eyes light up when you see what's coming at you. You start thinking about where you need to be, how you get there and what you need to do at the specific moment when you collide with the forces of nature. With surfing, the thrill of catching waves can become addicting and some surfers will make sacrifices to chase them. River guides, I learned, are no different.

Family Portrait
Like surfers, rafters go where the action is. They know where the secret spots are and keep those spots under wraps. It may be a rock or a bend in a river whereas, for a surfer it would be a reef or sandbar. In either case, if you can get to know the locals they will share this knowledge with you. 

Our guide was named Ed (I changed his name on the off chance he owes someone money or is running from the law although he was so nice I highly doubt either to be the case) and he completely encapsulated the spirit of the classic surf bum. He had given his life to the outdoors, foregoing much of the bullshit the rest of us distract ourselves with. As a result, there was a very peaceful aura around him and it was easy to understand why. After all, he spent his days on a river, sharing the experience of a lifetime with the uninitiated. 

Having done it for nine years by this point, I'm sure he is well aware of the effect he has on people. The laughter, smiles, and screams of joy and excitement must be so fulfilling and rewarding. While spending his days navigating city dwellers down Class 2 and 3 rapids may not sound like much fun, it seemed to him because shooting down a river was truly his passion. 

Ed wasn't alone in his endeavor. There are many people like Ed who work on the river, pursuing a life of adventure. Sure, there are trade offs. They don't make a lot of money. They also don't wear fancy clothes or live in big houses.  They don't drive nice cars or eat at fancy restaurants either. They may not even have health insurance. But they don't seem to mind. These are creature comforts the rest of us have, enjoy or pursue to make us feel comfortable, cultured or successful. Well, I suspect Ed and his friends have a different definition of success. They've found something they love to do and they're doing it. They're chasing - and living - the dream. They work odd jobs in the off season so they can return to the river in the Spring. Some will wait tables. Some will do manual labor. Others, like Ed, will do ski patrol.

I know there are surfers out there doing the same thing. I think of guys like Kepa Acero, Rusty Long and Brian Conley who have made lots of sacrifices to chase and live their dreams. I'm sure there are thousands of surfers just like these guys. I'm also fairly sure they're happy and don't envy the lives we weekend warriors lead. These adventurers are the modern day versions of surfing's North Shore pioneers, guys like Pat Curren and George Downing, and Buzzy Trent. These guys scrounged to get to Hawaii, sleeping in Quonset huts, cars, cane fields or on the beach and living off the land in order to surf world class waves. 

Kepa Acero: blending in with the locals down south. WAY south

Brian Conley: tube hunter

Wally Frosieth, George Downing, Buzzy Trent: surf check

Whether on a surfboard, raft, bike, skis or whatever, these are keeping the spirit of adventure alive and are to be admired. And if you're looking for adventure on a river in Northern California, look no further than Beyond Limits. It's a family business with tons of expertise, professionalism and aloha. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.