EDITOR’S DESK– Here in America, children grow up learning the simple rhyme, “April Showers bring May Flowers.” April’s wet weather also brings the rivers up and marks the traditional beginning of the commercial whitewater rafting season. Although hardcore dirtbags never truly pack away the boats and gear, this is the time of year that hardcore customers jaded by the tamer flows of sultry summer don rented wetsuits and ill-fitting spray jackets to step into our realm for a few hours. This is also when outfitters hire on for the season.
White Water Adventurers out of Ohiopyle, PA is one such outfit. WWA is one of the great original companies who pioneered commercial rafting, with their focus on the Youghiogheny River. They do things the right way. If you went rafting 30 years ago on the Lower Yough you’d see some things have changed: rafters wear helmets now, the boats self-bail, the faces have all changed. Except for the River Manager. Jimbo’s still there.
Other things would be the same. Dimple Rock is still flipping boats and looming large in the minds of customers and guides alike. The guides still perform the same jobs, in the same spots on the river, using the same hand signals and rescue techniques. Coiled rope still pulls in the occasional swimmer. Boats still gotta go up that hill, and then there’s that bus ride…
I sat down with WWA River Manager Jim Greenbaum to reflect back on the old days and see what he’s looking for in the raft guide of tomorrow. “We are looking for a wide diversity of staff,” Jim told me. “Last year I had over a dozen states represented.”Whether you’re a spring chicken just getting in, or an old river rat considering finally giving up that day job for the ultimate adventure gig, NOW IS THE TIME. It’s April!
DBP: Jim, you are River Manager of one of the classic whitewater rafting outfitters in America! How long have you been at the position?
JG: Since June of 1989…yes, 1989
DBP: You’ve been a fixture there since I first boated the Yough in 2003. Managing at WWA came after a lengthy career of guiding, which is why everyone I know there in Ohiopyle respects you and loves working for you. What year did you first start raft guiding, and what was it like back in the glory days?
JG: My first year was 1976 on the Cheat for MS & T. Big fun, big water, all in bucket boats. Commercial rafting was still fairly new, so the “older guides” weren’t that old (I was 17) and we were all leaving everyday. And paddling everything everyday. We thought we were pushing the limits.
DBP: So you’re looking for Dirt Bags to come and work this season! What can a rookie guide expect to learn at WWA? What are you looking for in applicants?
JG: We are a hands-on company. We want you to learn it all (rafting, kayaking, customer service). Plus, someone who wants to have a lot of fun, then that is reflected to our guests. We are not a “cookie cutter” company. We like diversity and you will be hired for what you are about and what you will bring to WWA.
DBP: What does the training of a raft guide look like?
JG: A lot of time spent on the water. Rafting…kayaking…swimming. We don’t teach just being a good Yough guide; but when you’re done, you will be a good guide capable of working most rivers and your social networking skills will be above par.
DBP: Are you also hiring experienced guides for the Cheat River and Upper Yough trips? The UY is one of my personal favorites!
JG: We are no longer operating on the Cheat. We do occasionally have opening for Upper guides, but generally there is a waiting list of guides wanting to work this really fun section. But we do train there a lot.
DBP: Despite being a Class III-IV river, the Lower Yough is a known killer due to the undercuts and foot entrapments, particularly Dimple Rock. I’ve had the pleasure to tag along on a safety training trip many years ago that you led with the young guides, as you showed them positions and gave them scenarios to work out. What’s it take to be a safe guide at WWA?
JG: Training and practice with more training and practice. We have all been schooled by Charlie Walbridge in rescue and Swift Water techniques over the years, thus developing a great training program for old and new staff. As new folks come in, we continue this tradition.
DBP: The great thing about the three commercial stretches of the Yough – Upper, Middle, and Lower – is that they’re dam released. How long is the raft guiding season at WWA?
JG: The Corps of Engineers does a great job of managing the resource that allows us to run from early March through October. Even in droughts, we seem to have the water.
DBP: Ohiopyle is one of the coolest whitewater towns in THE WORLD! Your town is fiilled with rafters from all over the world who live in guide housing or camp, with a whitewater river running right through town (the Loop on the Lower Yough can easily be run every single day after work, with 7 quality rapids in a quarter mile of river and five minute walk back to town!) with a small yet vibrant nightlife and a 25 foot waterfall filling the air with a natural roar, tons of hiking and biking and so much more!! What’s your favorite thing about this tiny town nestled in the depths of the Laurel Highlands?
JG: You said it all. Everything is at our fingertips and within walking distance. First of all, your “office”, the river, is steps away. The Loop is the best kayak training ground anywhere, plus the fishing is awesome. Now that Ohiopyle Falls is legal to run… that is a group activity we like to do… even with the rookies. Many of the guides don’t have cars which doesn’t raise much of a problem since everything is so close. But if someone is running one of the many, many creeks or runs, it’s such a small town and close knit group that ride sharing to put-ins, etc is the norm. My favorite thing to do is still the early AM or late PM loop run with my favorites, new and old.
DBP: As a longtime rafter, you’ve had your share of WALLACE. This by all accounts is why working for you is the best, you truly understand what job it is you are asking each and every person in the company to perform, and you’ve shared in the hazards that exist on these rivers. Tell us about your biggest swim.
JG: I figured out early on that it is better to stay in your boat, but I have probably swam them all! Best swim- Pillow (top to bottom). Longest… the loop at 13 feet.
DBP: Those of us in the community who know you also know your son Jake Greenbaum as an awesome kayaker who started out over 16 years ago accompanying his dad’s guided trips in his kayak as a skinny pre-teen. Now he’s kayaking legendary rivers around the world! (I was on the guided trip when he took his first full run to Bruner’s many years ago under the wing of Jim McFarland.) What’s it like to see Jake taking what he learned on the Lower Yough and going so far in the community?
JG: As I said earlier, the hands-on approach and accessibility of the Yough teaches you invaluable experiences that can take you around the world. The changing levels and the accessibility of the Loop and surrounding water sources is found nowhere better. You just have to get out and do it (and you might as well get paid while doing it!)
DBP: Thanks again for your time Jim! We wish you all the best in 2017! Any last words on what you expect this rafting season?
JG: The levels are great already. The dams and water tables are full. So the guests and guides are ready for an awesome season. So if any DBP is wanting some fun in a special work environment…come on and give us a call.
FOR MORE INFO AND TO CONTACT JIM- wwaraft.com