Paddling down a whitewater river is fun! But for some, those adventuresome fun loving souls, they desire to experience the satisfaction and thrill of being the captain of that raft bringing their whitewater experience to an entirely new level. For those who desire more its time for Whitewater School.

Whitewater school rescue training
Swimmer recovery training on the Klickitat River

Once a year a four-day class is held over the Memorial Day Weekend on both the Klickitat and White Salmon Rivers. Some students arrive with zero experience and some arrive with an impressive skill set. All leave with increasing confidence and a new set of friends. The whitewater school is designed to train students on how to maneuver a whitewater raft through rapids while reading the whitewater and observing dangers and how to stay clear of those dangers. Couple that with emergency and rescue preparedness and you are on your way to becoming a well-rounded whitewater raft guide. 

whitewater school

Something important to us in our whitewater schools, both paddle raft and rowing clinics, is that we keep the schools small so we don’t get bogged down in logistic and “herding cats” but rather spend serious time with hands on training for in and out of raft experiences. Generally, there will be no more than 15 students in a Paddle Raft School and 9 students Rowing Clinic (beginner and advanced classes in May).

whitewater school
Whitewater Rowing Clinics are perfect for those wishing to do expedition rafting.

There was great hesitancy for me to initiate raft guide schools in the early years as the whitewater rafting industry used schools to generate income while giving a faint hope for employment. Most raft guide schools are a pathway to employment which is something we did not want to participate in. When we bring on a rookie river guide at Zoller’s we take far more time than a four-day class to get them up to speed. Our rookies get one on one training from a highly skilled set of old-time river guides to get them prepared for the rigors of the White Salmon River. When we initiated our paddle raft guide school it was a class specifically for those wishing to be private whitewater raft guides or for those who have no intention of guiding a raft but want to see what it is like and spend four days chasing waves on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers. The diversity of student backgrounds amazes me each year. You’ll find a corporate executive working the river scene side by side with a tree faller. Nurse next to wine salesmen. And there are so many parent/teen combos that join the whitewater school as well. It amazes me each year to see the variety of students. While the Zoller’s Paddle Raft Guide School is not a pathway to employment there has been a couple of times over the years that we find an individual who has something special in their skills and their personality and we’ve offered them jobs.

Its all about training and bonding!

An unintended outcome of the rafting guide school has been the relationships of the diverse gathering of people. When you depend on one another day after day in hands on learning and relying on one another for assistance in and out of a raft you just simply cannot help but bond. Several of our students each year are repeat students looking to experience all of that great whitewater fun with like-minded enthusiasts from all across the nation. Some of my favorite times of the guide school is sitting around a campfire hearing the stories of different lives and finding out that we intersect in so many ways. Want to leave the woes of the world behind for a few days? Join us for whitewater School!

Join us here in the Columbia River Gorge for one of our Whitewater Schools and feel the passion of running whitewater.

Oregon Whitewater Guide
Mark Zoller has been guiding whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers since 1985. He lives in and loves the Columbia River Gorge