5 Rafting Terms You’ll Want to Know

Like other adventure sports, whitewater rafting has its own set of terms to describe the good, the bad, and the ugly. These words are good to know when you go Vail rafting with Timberline Tours because our expert guides will likely use them when something either really cool—or slightly scary—is about to happen. Plus, you’ll want to use these rafting terms yourself when describing your Colorado rafting adventure to others when you return from the river.

Listen up, students of rafting: Here’s a brief but important vocabulary lesson. Learn these five rafting terms, and then use them wisely:


In the rafting realm, the word boof can be used as either a verb or a noun. Boof, the noun, involves a bit of onomatopoeia, as a boof is the sound that a raft or kayak makes when it gets some big air and then slaps down flat on the water. The act of boofing, then, occurs when paddlers, intentionally or unintentionally, launch off of a wave or rock or other river feature and then land back on the water with the boat parallel to the surface of the water, making that amazingly cool boof sound.

Practice sentence: This raft has some serious boof potential. | Photo: Rapid Image Photography, www.rapidimagephoto.com

If the nose of the boat dives into the water upon landing, the boof sound usually doesn’t occur, so boofing takes some technique. In a raft, the nose of the boat needs to be lightened while taking off over the crest of a wave, and the boof can usually be facilitated when everyone in the boat takes a strong powerful stroke in unison just before the launch to help the boat smack down flat when landing.


Surfing in a raft also involves some skill, but it’s not necessarily a good thing. Surfing in a raft happens when the raft gets stuck in a hole without flipping. In the hole, water circulates and surges continuously beneath the raft. While kayakers will go out and surf waves for fun, paddlers in rafts don’t normally like being stuck in this situation. When a raft surfs in a hole, it hangs in a very delicate balance, unable to move out of the hole unless guides and paddlers make an attempt to stop surfing and get back into the river’s downstream current. Since surfing happens in instances when the raft is balanced on top of rapidly circulating water, attempts to get out of the hole can disrupt the delicate balance and either go well…or not so well (see dumptruck, below).


In rafting terms, a dumptruck occurs when everyone in the raft falls out but the raft continues on downstream, upright and without its passengers. Essentially, the raft dumps out all of its passengers in the way a dumptruck would easily dump its load. In a rafting dumptruck situation, everyone is going to get very wet, and the swim that follows could either be fun or a bit frightening, depending on individual fear thresholds or on what the river holds downstream.



When a wrap occurs while rafting, it’s generally not a good thing. A wrap happens when a raft bends, or wraps, around a rock or other river obstacle and gets stuck there, with the weight and momentum of the current holding it in place. Getting out of a wrap takes some careful maneuvering, and if it’s not done correctly, a dumptruck (see above) could result. On the other hand, rafting guides may call out some important commands (see high side, below) to help free the raft. Guides might even ask paddlers to get out of the raft and stand on the obstacle on which the raft is wrapped in an attempt to free it. In that case, paddlers can hopefully reenter the raft when it’s unwrapped and continue on paddling blissfully downstream.


High side is one of the most important rafting paddling commands because it can help prevent rafting mishaps, such as dumptrucks or wraps gone awry. When a guide yells “High side!” he or she is commanding all paddlers in the raft to quickly distribute their weight to the high side of the boat. This command will often be used when a raft hits a rock or other obstacle, making the weight distribution uneven and making it more likely to flip or dumptruck.

Try out these rafting terms next time you’re Vail rafting with Timberline Tours, and if you end up with any good photos that demonstrate these terms in action, we’d love to see them! Message your photos and captions using these terms to the Timberline Tours Facebook page, or mention us on Instagram @timberlinetours.


Timberline Tours is the Vail-area’s premier whitewater rafting and backcountry jeep tours outfitter, also offering stand up paddle board (SUP) and duckie river trips on Colorado’s Eagle, Colorado, and Arkansas Rivers. All of our guided trips are open to Vail, Colorado visitors, locals, families, and corporate groups.

To book your Vail, Colorado adventure, call Timberline Tours at (970) 476-1414, or email us at info@timberlinetours.com.