In New Zealand, the sport is known as white-water sledging. In Europe, they call it hydrospeed. In North America, it’s called Riverboarding, and it is a cross between the bodyboarding done in oceans across the world and white water rafting, only without the raft.
In Riverboarding, a rider lies face down on a board, specially designed for staying afloat in non-salt water, and wears fins for the purposes of steering and pushing him or herself out of harm’s way if the occasion should arise.
Riverboarding is more than just a sport though. It is used for purposes of rescue as well, usually with a rescuer secured by a line to a boat or object on the bank.
The development of Riverboarding for recreation is believed to have started in the latter part of the 1970s with French rafting guides who filled a burlap sack with life vests and rode it down the rapids. Not long after, a plastic board closer in design to a surf board was first crafted for riders. Plastic riverboards made their way around the world to New Zealand, where the sport became known as sledging and picked up in popularity.
The plastic riverboard wasn’t the only option in the sport though. In Europe, riders also created a foam board. The foam board was slightly more buoyant, and was also safer in the case of two riders crashing into each other. In California, during the 80’s, one Californian attempted riverboarding using bodyboards designed for the ocean. The fact that the board didn’t float as well in the river water prompted Robert Carlson to create the Carlson Riverboard, a new kind of board with handles and a slick bottom. This board was thicker and floated better in river water.
Like surfers, riverboarders generally dress for warmth, wearing wetsuits, and, to guard against the shallow beds and rocky terrain of the river rapids, riders often wear helmets and pads.
Riverboarding has grown over the years, so that it now comprises almost a third of all whitewater tours in Europe, but it has yet to really catch on in the United States. With its popularity in other areas of the world, though, it is only a matter of time, especially with the kind of exposure the extreme sport is enjoying in the world of commercials. The Nissan Xterra featured two different commercials with riverboarders in the early 1990s, and Nike has also featured the sport.
Not all of us are brave enough face the rapids without a boat, or a guide. If that’s you, maybe it will just be easier to read about it on this guy’s blog at http://www.facelevel.com/weblogs/kev/