White-water activity market expanding

In recent years the UK has seen a huge increase in demand for activities that involve ‘playing’ in fast-moving, white-water.  This is probably not suprising.  As the soft-adventure market has expanded, offering opportunities to people that wouldn’t normally do such outdoorsy activities, there has also been an increase in the more adventurous activities on offer.  As people realise the fun that is to be had, demand for more challenging activities has also increased.

White-water activities are not new, with well-established destinations in the likes of New Zealand, the USA and Europe.  Experiences such as white-water kayaking,  river sledging, canyoning, gorge swimming, and white-water rafting are available across the world these days, with varying degress of difficulty to suit different levels of experience and sense of adventure.

White-water activities in Scotland

Canoeing on river spey white water

Although Scotland doesn’t have the big volume, white-water rivers that you might see in Canada or New Zealand, what Scotland does have, is an amazing variety of venues offering all sorts of experiences.

From River Sledging or Canyoning at Loch Lomond, to Gorge Swimming in Strathconon (near Inverness), or Gorge Walking at Aviemore, White-water Rafting on the Findhorn and River Tubing on the River Luss.

There are lots of other variants of the whitewater activity genre, with something to suit first-timers or full-on, adrenaline-junkies.

Why are people attracted to white-water activities?

The most obvious answer to this question is probably the excitement-factor.  However, you don’t have throw yourself off a 10-metre gorge cliff into a swirling pool to get your kicks.  If you consider that the vast majority of people in the UK have never tried any white-water activity, even intro-level gorge walking will be exciting for some.  Or, take your 6 year-old out on a nice easy gorge walk and they will be super-excited, because it is so different to anything they will have done before.

Fear of the cold!

With excitement, there is often an element of fear contributing that feeling.  A fear of the unknown, of what is coming next.  From our experience as an activity operator, the fear is often of the cold water rather than what is involved with the actual activity!  However, when you put someone inside one of our big, chunky wetsuits, the cold water tends not to be an issue for most.

Fear of the unknown

There is also the fear associated with not knowing how they might react to being in fast-moving water, or if confronted with a jump or slide into a deep pool.  This is where an experienced guide with the right personality comes into play.

First and foremost, the guide is there to ensure the safety of the group, so participants should be assured that they are in safe hands.  However, a good guide also needs to have the softer, interpersonal skills required to get the best out of people, that might be a bit nervous or even scared.

With that combination, the fear that participants might have tends to become excitement as they gain confidence in what they are doing.  Typically, white-water sessions end with a great sense of achievement and excited chatter brought about by the adrenaline coursing through the body!  So, perceived risk and fear of the unknown, play an important role in enjoyment of white-water sports.

Gorge swimming - whitewater chute

Benefits of participating in white-water activities

Challenging fears

Apprehension     →Habituation     →Enjoyment     →Excitement

Thinking again about the fear-factor associated with taking part in white-water recreation, one huge benefit is being able to challenge personal fears.  Going through the process of being apprehensive, then becoming more comfortable with a situation that gradually becomes enjoyable and ultimately exciting, is a process that people encounter in many different situations in life.  When challenging fears in a controlled, safe manner, self-confidence can only improve if only a little bit at a time.  This can have a positive impact on self-confidence in other situations an individual might encounter in life as a whole.

Learning to assess risks

A benefit we see again and again as an activity provider that leads school groups regularly, is that of learning to assess risks.  So many kids (and many adults) have been prevented from learning through trial and error by over-protective parents or guardians, or over-protection health and safety regulations.  Jumping off the garden shed roof may not be the best idea, but if it does go wrong and you get hurt, you learn and you won’t do it again!

Of course, not all new experiences end in serious injury, but with Health and Safety regulations impacting on so much of what we do in life, the opportunities to learn how to assess risk through experiences are much fewer these days.  For more on this, refer back to the previous blogs, ‘Wrapped in Cotton Wool I’ and ‘Wrapped in Cotton Wool II‘.

So, take a group of kids outdoors and give them the opportunity to consider what the risks might be before they start an activity, how to approach the potential hazard, experience it (in a controlled manner) and then learn from how it went.  Sounds straightforward doesn’t it?

However, many kids just don’t do enough of this in day-to-day life and as a result, things can go really wrong if they attempt something that really isn’t a good idea (typically boys showing off to their mates).  Letting them learn this skill in a controlled environment with some manageable risks (albeit they may still get bumps and bruises) is a lesson for life.

school kids splashing around in a gorge

 

The great outdoors

Photo of Loch Lomond by Robert Keane on UnsplashWe all know it, but it’s worth saying again.  Just being outdoors is so good for our health and mental well-being.

  • Fresh-air clears the head and the lungs, giving you a feel-good-feeling.
  • Exercise releases endorphins in the body, giving you a natural, sustained high (a much more healthy high that that which is associated with playing computer games – these short term highs are associated more closely with addiction than well-being).
  • See places you won’t otherwise get to see – some of the venues used for whitewater activities are off the beaten track and not places you would see just driving by.  There is an element of excitement and adventure associated with being in places like this.
  • Stress-busting – getting away from the daily routine, work and busy family lives is important for mental wellbeing.  Trying new things, in new places in the great outdoors is great for the mind as well as the body.
  • See nature close up – it’s not uncommon to see wildlife while out exploring.  That may be some red deer on the hillside as you walk to the activity location, or if you’re lucky see beaver or otters.  It is often little things like this that can make a day so much more special.

Shared experiences with friends or family

Finally, in an age of material things, experiences are becoming more and more important to people.  As many realise that having the latest gadget or trendy trainers perhaps isn’t quite as satisfying as it used to be, people are seeking new experiences instead.  Shared experiences with friends or family groups can be great for bonding, giving them plenty to chat about for months or years to come as they recall that exciting/ funny/scary moment.

  Trendy pair of trainers

  VERSUS

Gorge Scrambling - great group activity

Why, why, why whitewater?

Well, hopefully you might have a better understanding of why participation in exciting activities like white-water sports, can be so beneficial.  Everyone has different starting points, so what might be scary for some, may be easy for others, but with white-water activities to suit all levels of experience, everyone that gives it a go can benefit in some way.

Scotland has a growing reputation as a world-class outdoor activity destination, with high standards of safety across the industry.  With so many experiences to choose from, in so many locations, there is a mini-adventure somewhere for everyone.

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