I was in New Zealand, Christchurch to be specific, and white water rafting was being advertised as one of the local specialities.. so I was game, and so was my lady friend based on the description of it that I had provided.
I actually didn’t look into the safety record of the company I had booked with, silly me.. and it turned out only afterward that I found out that they had a fatality in the last year. We arrived at their facility, got decked out with thick wetsuits (this was cold river water) and in fact crash helmets, and briefed about safety and procedures. At the time I was quite comfortable with the amount of pre-prep in fact.
So off onto the river we set off, there was 6 or so of us in the raft, and the first thing that the guide did (who was perched on the stern of the inflatable boat) was to assess paddling skill. He set us on a path straight ahead, but low and behold we continually pulled to one side. So he tried to figure out the dynamic.. and asked me to move from one side to the other.. assessing it again, now we continued to pull to the other side. Go figure, It was I who was doing the power paddling..
Once tuned up, off we set down the river.. and did a few rough spots just fine until we came to a more ambitious section, and then totally screwed up.. Our guide had put us right in a hole, the raft upended sending us all into the river, and lucky me, I went right into the vortex.. getting sucked down to the bottom of the river immediately. I am an experienced scuba diver, so panic is not on my typical list of responses.. Initially I tried to fight the downward current by swimming upwards (the light green glow above my head being the best way to determine which way was up), but it was futile at that point, the current elevator was heading down and I was along for the duration of the ride. I remembered to orientate myself to have my feet out in front of me as my ass bounced along the bottom of the river, the idea being, better a broken leg from smashing into a boulder than a hit to the head..
After about a minute I popped up to the surface due to the buoyancy of my wetsuit. The team already deployed the rescue and recovery crew to set a catch-line across the river that I grabbed and pulled myself into a back-eddy. After answering their question as to was I okay – and yes I was – my query back was where was my companion and her status. She was fine, so all was good.
Back at the lodge we dried off and warmed up, while all the staff came over to ask what that had it been like being sucked down the water vortex to the bottom. Apparently I was the first one ever to get that particular experience on one of their tours.
But I must say I have reflected back on this and it seems like a dumb thing to do, even at the time I should have known better, as the fact that I have a healthy respect for the water is probably the biggest reason I am still alive. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and that’s not correct in this circumstance, but I could say familiarity can breed a bit of complacency.. what do you think?