Water Terminology

Like any sport or hobby, whitewater rafting is home to a huge variety of terms and phrases that are commonplace within the sport. Over time, rafters pick up these up (and sometimes may find themselves using them in “real” life!), but initially it can be a bit of a vocabulary overload; especially when you consider that you can further break down whitewater rafting into more components. Today, we’re looking at a pretty important part of whitewater rafting: the water. Keep reading for our list of essential water terminology for the new whitewater rafter.


Who says learning vocabulary has to be boring? Well when the topic of study is something as fun as whitewater rafting, for some reason it suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting. Keep reading for some of the terms that you’re most likely to hear on your  next whitewater rafting trip.

Rapid: OK so this may seem like an obvious one, but if you really think about it, how would you describe a rapid? To answer very generally, rapids generally refer to 3 or more features of whitewater that are connected continuously. Whitewater rafting is generally no more than traversing a series of these types of rapids.

Pool: Is almost exactly what it sounds like, and most definitely quite different from a rapid. Basically it is a smaller section of river that does not contain any rapids, and the movement is extremely slow moving – making it the ideal spot for relaxing a bit between bouts of rapids.

Wave: These on the whitewater are similar to those that we find on the beach, but not quite the same. As you may know, waves on the sea are a result of gravity, where as the greater catalyst for waves in whitewater is generally due to a boulder or underwater ledge that forces the water up. Once the “wave” has reached a heavy enough point, it will “break” – resulting in the characteristic whitewater that we all love.

Flatwater: Also a word that is very much descriptive of what it is. However, don’t let the “flat” portion fool you, as water can still be moving quite quickly despite appearances – it simply means that there are no true rapids.

Hole: Almost the opposite of a wave 😉 Formed as the river flows over an object that is close to (or above) the surface of the water. Once this water has passed over the object, it cause the water to recirculate on the other side of the boulder. This recirculation = the hole that you see that is frothy and pushing (often upstream).

Line: The approximate path that paddlers will want to take when passing through any rapids, waves, holes or other river features.

Ledge (or, Drop): These act as shelves to the next level of the river. As they are a few feet up and generally result in the watercraft dropping to the next level of water, they are often also referred to as “drops”.

Waterfall: A REALLY large drop (usually 10 feet or greater).

Eddy: The water that forms behind boulders and around bends – usually in the form of a calm spot that the raft, kayak, or other vessel can sit in while the rest of the river continues flowing downstream.

Wave Train: Maybe this is part of where the term “ride the wave” came from? It is essentially a series of waves in succession (3 or more). What you might notice the most about working through a wave train is that it feels remarkably similar to a roller coaster.



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