Written by raft guides anonymous from around the world.

You may hear tales of these wild men and women of the river.  The blessed unwashed.  The mystical guides.  Somehow there always seems to be a constant source of guides when you go rafting but you don’t know anyone that does it.  None of your friends are guides, and you know a lot of people.  Where do they come from? Where do they live? Have you ever wondered if you may have come across one of these rarities in the street?  Do they have family? Were they raised by playtpus or are they some hybrid human water dragon?

Well, let us explain some of the standard traits you can look for when Guide Spotting.

You will need:

·      Eyes x2

·      Nose x1

·      Peg (for your nose)

In preparation for Guide spotting, go to a river city pub or train station or a university that offers outdoor education.  Get yourself a comfortable seat and prepare to begin spotting.

The following attributes are generalisations and some guides may in fact look like normal humans.


Seasoned guides will have deep furrowed smile lines because, let’s be honest, they have the best job in the world.  These lines are from years of laughing at their own terrible jokes and smiling when they see how much fun their clients had for the day.  They also get to hang out with the best people in the business.   A guides lips will be cracked and burnt from days in the sun and a failure to apply lip balm as a result of losing their blistex or lending it to another guide/customer who didn’t give it back.

Side note: some guides will wear sun glasses and will have the obligatory sunnies tan.


A guide’s hair varies according to Gender.  One constant is that it will be unwashed and smell of high density foam padding from constantly being in a wet helmet. You may wish to look for helmet hair.  This is distinguishable from hat hair due to its lower cut and lack of tuft at the back.  A male guide will have either long flowing locks or a close shave.  A sensible and appropriate hair cut is unacceptable. Facial hair is a given for guides.  The bushier the better. Some male guides will also grow beards.


Pasty and white.  A guide’s chest never sees the light of day.  In the winter it is wrapped deep under layers of dry clothes and in summer it is condemned to remain under their buoyancy vest.  If you do spot a shirtless guide in summer, first; do not approach. They are airing out their body and it will smell like a damp dog and wet neoprene.  Second; look for the weirdest tan lines you have ever seen.  A buoyancy vest tan cannot be confused with singlet lines.


Free t-shirts.  A guide loves nothing more than a free t-shirt.  Any corporate logo, bucks day/hens day customized t-shirt they can get their hands on, a guide will wear.  They don’t even have to know the buck or eat at KFC.  If it is free they will wear it.

Shorts.  Guides spend all day in cumbersome gear, a pair of board shorts is the perfect attire to let the nether regions breathe and still be accepted in public.  Some guides may opt for a loose fitting pant.  Generally it is a work pant, something which can stand up to a lot of wear and tear.  They will be holey and stained from boat glue.

Shoes.  A sturdy pair of skate shoes goes a long way for a guide or a pair of Dunlop volleys.  You will hear guides on the river claiming, “these have the best grip for running over rocks.”  More than likely you will find them barefoot or in a pair of thongs.  A guides feet are perpetually wet so why bother trying to dry shoes out.  The hard calloused heel and soggy toes are a dead giveaway too.


Guides don’t own anything of worth that isn’t related to boating.  If it isn’t made by NRS, Kokotat, Solution, Sweet etc.  they don’t want to know about it.  If you spot a guide with luggage your job has been made a lot easier.   A suitcase is not something a guide owns.  Look for an old busted duffle bag, usually with mesh to let the rank, semi dry gear breath.  A dry bag or old pickle barrel is also a dead giveaway.  Dry cases are a guides equivalent to a purse.  All their most important bits are in that.  A phone, maybe some money, Gopro action camera, spare batteries, spare memory cards, basically anything they bought instead of paying rent and buying food.

If you have noticed any number of these attributes you have most likely been in the presence of a guide.  If you want to talk to them they would love to tell you about what they do.  The most endearing attribute of a white water river guide is that they love what they do and they want to talk about it.  If you have a spare 2 hours and want to hear tales of the river, offer to buy them a drink and sit back to enjoy.

River guides Australia