What started as one of the most simple forms of primitive navigation has turned into a modern high-adrenaline sport that millions of thrill seekers take part of every year. That’s right, we’re talking about river rafts!
From a handful of rough-hewn logs bound together, to a highly durable rubber construction, river rafts have come a long way. Let’s take a look at where they started, and what they look like today. We’ll also discover some of the adventurous ways they are used on the water, so fasten on your life jackets and let’s get started!
The First River Rafts
The truth is, rafts have probably existed before our earliest history accounts! Most cultures who lived by the water built some form of floating raft by tying various buoyant items together, like logs, bamboo, reeds, etc. These would be tied together in such a way as to create a platform where a passenger (or passengers) could sit, along with whatever they were intending to transport.
Earliest rafts were designed for fairly calm water, as they were a bit bulky, brittle, and hard to steer. Paddles or poles were generally used for propulsion, as well as sails occasionally.
Rafting on the Great Mississippi
River rafts have some rich history in the United States of America, immortalized in famous literature such as Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Such rafts during the early 1800’s, made of logs and planks of wood, often had small shelters on them so that the boaters could spend several days at a time floating on the water. The Mississippi River, stretching over 2,000 miles and connecting 10 states, was a perfect waterway for floating rafts!
River Rafts Hit the Rapids
Rafting took a drastic turn when designers started experimenting with rubber construction. There were successful attempts to create whitewater-worthy rubber rafts as early as the 1840’s! The vast majority of the public didn’t consider it to be a good way to spend their money and free time in that era, however; and rubber rafts were reserved primarily for use as emergency life rafts in military vessels and other large passenger-carrying ships.
By the time the 1960’s and 70’s rolled around, people were ready for adventure, and riding a big rubber raft down a turbulent river started to sound a little more fun! In 1972, the Olympic games were held in Germany, and whitewater rafting was included for the first time as a sport. Ever since then, it has steadily grown in popularity …and it’s still growing!
The Modern Raft
The basic shape of a raft is structured by an inflated tube that serves as the rafts sides, with a multilayered floor. The front and back lift out of the water slightly for easier movement. Modern rafts usually hold between 4-8 people, while some smaller models are designed for 2. Passengers are outfitted with life jackets, oars, and often helmets for head protection.
Today’s inflatable rubber rafts are quite sophisticated, featuring self-baling systems so that boaters no longer have to bucket out the water that splashes in on their wild rides.
Where is Rafting Done?
Whitewater rafting is enjoyed in almost every state of America; wherever there are rivers, there you will find rafts! Some people enjoy a calmer ride, while others love the thrill of rushing rocky rivers.
While it is often considered it to be a dangerous sport (and there is always a degree of risk in sports), statistics show that whitewater rafting is safer than kayaking, climbing, recreational swimming, and even bicycling. Just be sure to find a rafting guide who is certified, insured, and experienced.
Ready to have some summer fun? Get out there with your friends and do some river rafting!