Often when sitting in the back of a raft I am asked, “What does it take to become an Ocoee River raft guide?” I usually retort, “Astonishing good looks and humility.”
Seriously, I just happen to be finishing up training for this season and thought I’d write up a little summary of what we did this year.
This year it began on a chilly day in January, the 15th to be exact, before anyone was thinking of 90-degree weather and jumping into the Ocoee River for fun. This was the day we got our first guide application. We contact references and check into their background, but more importantly we talk to them at length to get to know them and see how they will fit into our team.
Once we have a pretty good idea of who these applicants are, we invite them up for the first day of training. From the initial day of instruction until they “check out,” we are evaluating the trainees to verify that they have what it takes to be a great Ocoee guide.
This year training began April 5th. It was cold, but sunny! We started out with around 20 guide trainees this year. We began with a get to know you, and some basic introductions. It is the only time during the entire process that you will see these people terrified.
We proceeded to instruction on airing up boats, tying knots, and the incidentals that are the infrastructure of guiding rafts. We then moved on to some basic safety precautions, including establishing a safe word in case we have an actual emergency; then, before lunch we headed to the river. This is where I think most of the learning comes into play.
The first time you do something completely out of your element and you are able to keep your cool when it gets real– that’s where you learn to be a good raft guide. We continue to do this time after time, putting our trainees into situations where their decisions have actual consequences. They have to learn to make the right calls during precarious situations.
Three months later… only after swimming the entire Ocoee River, listening to me drone on about how you can never be too safe out there, and many busted toe nails the trainees begin to “check out.” They have now earned the title “rookie” and get to be sandwiched between more seasoned guides on every trip. They also often get a fair share of hazing (like peanut butter in the helmet), and are not paid as well for their first year of trips, doing it for the love of the river.
Following the first year of guiding rafting trips on the Ocoee, through cold spring training runs, they then move on to become the most dangerous guides in the world…. 2nd years!