Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Rollin’ on the river

Taking a break from the labours of paddling, whitewater rafters smile for the camera.

Sitting atop your group’s inflatable raft, you and the others in your boat look upon each other nervously. Paddle in hand and clad in your brightly coloured life jacket and helmet, a shared sense of anticipation and excitement overtakes you. As your guide briefs the group on what is to come - providing relevant information in a dry, dad-joke style of humour for which raft guides are known - what you are really focused on is the roar of the upcoming rapid. While you can’t yet see it, it is undoubtedly there. The rapids’ thunderous baritone betrays its location.
“Is everyone ready?”, your guide asks with a cheeky smile that is both unnerving and oddly comforting.
On your guide’s command, your group begins to paddle. As instructed, you try your best to sync up your strokes with those of your boatmates. With each paddle stroke, the raft’s forward momentum builds and, as a result, the foreboding raucous of the rapids crashing water grows louder.
“Paddle harder everyone!”, your guide calls out in encouragement. From the tone of their voice, it sounds as though they still have that cheeky smile on their face, although you wouldn’t dare peel your eyes from what lays ahead of you to check.
Fueled by a healthy mix of adrenaline and anticipation, your entire group is now paddling as hard as they possibly can. As your raft sprints downstream, the first in a series of imposingly large waves sits before you. Punctuated by a few hollers of excitement amongst your group, the bow of your boat hits the wave. Time slows for a second and it feels as though the entire raft will flip.
You are momentarily relieved when you make it through upright, although the rapid is not over, and the quickly approaching waves mean this is no time for celebration. Crashing through one large wave after another, an invigoration washes over you. Having made it to the rapids end unscathed, cheers and congratulatory high-fives are shared amongst your group. The anxieties you felt beforehand have morphed into exhilaration, and you are comprehensively sold on this thing they call “whitewater rafting”.
The scene described is one that takes place every day at Rafting Momentum. Nestled just south of Bryson, between the Ottawa River and Highway 148, Rafting Momentum is a small whitewater rafting company with a big heart. Offering rafting trips down the Ottawa River from May untill October, Rafting Momentum specializes in jovial fun, incessant laughter and getting people wet.
“You get addicted to the positive vibe that we always have here,” said Rafting Momentum’s Director General, Philippe Ouellette. “The rafting is great fun and is perfect for all experience levels: from beginners to experts.”
Those who live in the Pontiac are intimately aware of the innate beauty of the Ottawa River. Living near or along its shores, locals fish, swim and boat throughout its vast expanse - enjoying the scenery as they do so. What is perhaps less understood amongst the people of the Pontiac is the degree in which the Ottawa River is regarded as a premier whitewater destination. Not just in Canada, but throughout the world.
Attracting professional kayakers and rafting enthusiasts from far and wide, the Ottawa River is a bastion for whitewater paddling culture. Known for its copious amounts of water, swelling waves and summertime warm water, the Ottawa River is as fun a whitewater river experience as it is a unique one. With water levels constantly in flux, one could raft a week apart and have a completely different experience that feels as though they are on an entirely different river.
“The Ottawa River is a very voluminous river with big waves,” said Ouellette. “It is not rocky like other rivers and because most rapids end in a calm pool, it is regarded as being very safe.”
A small rafting company, Rafting Momentum prides itself on its personal approach. Embracing a “not just a number” philosophy, Rafting Momentum opens their arms to their clientele in hopes that they will feel at home during their rafting experience. Running small trips with less people, Rafting Momentum attempts to foster kinship amongst their guides and those who come rafting. It is through these connections that the exhilarating activity of rafting is enhanced even further.
“When hiring guides, we’re looking for people who have fun and entertaining personalities,” said Ouellette. “While we want people who are athletic, raft guiding is a job that deals with people a lot and so you need to be prepared for different situations. Sometimes, depending on the situation, you need to act like a strict father, a supportive mother, a friendly sister, or a rowdy big brother. It all depends.”
Rafting Momentum’s personal approach doesn’t end on the river. Boasting chalets, cabins and campgrounds for rental, many who come rafting with the company choose to stay overnight. With Rafting Momentum’s charming and rustic reception barn acting as a rendezvous point, the day’s adventure often culminates in an après-rafting celebration being shared amongst staff and guests alike.
As the firepit roars out front the barn’s exterior, tales from the day are regaled to the enjoyment of all. A sense of intimacy - cultivated through shared experience - permeates the group.
While the majority of those who visit Rafting Momentum each year are from the major urban centres of Toronto, Ottawa, Gatineau and Montreal, Ouellette says that he would love to see more people from the Pontiac come out to experience the Ottawa River in a way they perhaps never have.
“It’s similar to someone who lives in Ottawa,” said Ouellette. “Parliament could be just down the road from them but they’ve never taken the opportunity to actually visit and see what it’s like. We often don’t appreciate what is in our own backyards.”

Story by Connor Lalande


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