Just Try It: River Sledging

What is it?
River Sledging, also known as hydrospeed or river boarding, is a bit like boogie boarding. But instead of riding sea-waves, you travel down river rapids on your stomach on a small polyurethane board. River sledging started in the Alps, but it is still very much in its infancy. The excitement of the ride increases with the swiftness of the river.

Where can I do it?
The French and Swiss Alps, Italian Dolomites, Slovenia and New Zealand. River sledging guide companies are now starting up in many places that offer whitewater rafting, so check the nearest rivers to you.

How difficult is it?
If you can swim then you can river-sledge. The boards are so buoyant that as long as you remember to hang on to them, your chances of drowning are minimal. Also, the guides with you should know the river rapids intimately and will give you advice on how to tackle each section. The rapids can be pretty shallow so you can get knocked around a little, but you are so well protected with helmets and extra thick neoprene wetsuits that the worst you are likely to suffer is a little bruising. There are a few important rules:

1. Be aggressive. If you’re heading into a standing wave or a waterfall, the worst thing you can do is try and ride it out. Instead you have to try and punch your sledge through the wave with maximum force.

2. Show no respect for others on the river. If you see someone stranded on a rock, don’t let go of your sledge to try and help them. Instead, you should ram your way past them and get back into the quickest flow of the river.
3. Send down the fattest man last. That way you avoid plugging up narrow gaps in the river for all who follow.

What kit do I need?
River sledge board, neoprene wet suit, helmet, flippers – all included provided by the guide.

Doug Wight (Partner): “Any previous rafting experience can be thrown out of the window compared to river sledging. We went down the Kaituna river near Rotorua, New Zealand, led by a bunch of Maoris who asked the river god’s blessing to deliver us safely from the torments of life. Peculiarly, despite the prayers guaranteeing our safety, they also made us sign a waiver for all injuries. I’m still trying to figure that one out. After learning the techniques needed to get down the river successfully, we went straight into one of the hardest grade 4 sections of the river. The rapids look huge as you approach them because your nose is inches from the water, and then as you hit them, they pick you up and toss you around as if you’re in a washing machine. You can’t see a thing and then you’re out. It was incredible and after three hours, I was shattered but ready for a few gallons of amber nectar.”