Starting rafting in the very early “naughties” because he found a way to make money rather than spend it, this week we meet Bijan Arbab.
Desert hiking trips were a big factor in Bijan’s life and work experiences before he discovered paddling (and more importantly rafting!). In the Green Kalahari of South Africa, Bijan found a backpackers offering rafting where he used to stay when he was an avid desert hiker. At one point the company needed on-river help in camp with a big multi-day trip, so they asked him to come along. They put him in a 15 foot fibreglass canoe piled high with food and camp stuff, and told him to just follow the other guides. This experience made him realise how paddling is vastly superior to hiking (carrying food and water for a week at a time in a desert climate was not much fun at all!!). Slowly but surely he started hiking less and less and joining trips on the river more and more often. Finally, after a while his mates from the rafting company told him to do a course so that he could stop paying the guides and they could start paying him! In a nutshell that was what started his rafting adventures!
When did you start rafting and when did you start delivering IRF Guide training?
I started rafting in 2001. In 2014 Austria adopted the IRF guide training & education (GT&E) scheme, and as this is where I live and do most of my river work I had no choice, really. However, when I got into it I learned to appreciate the benefits of the system, so I’m glad it went as it did! Now teaching rafting has become an internationally viable thing for me, which is really great!
What is your favourite memory on the river?
Hard to say, there’s a lot to choose from… watching the full moon over a flooded little falls of the Orange River on new years eve? Spending 18 involuntary seconds under water (caught on camera) on my first paid rafting trip? Or full moon paddling on the White Nile with clouds pulling in just before Total Gunga? Super high water on the Swiss Inn? Or maybe threading through the first gorge on the Coruh? Swimming 1 km of a class IV/V kiwi box canyon chasing my kayak? Being rowed down the local class 2 section by my oldest son?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint one of them as my favourite, since everyday on the water gives me peace of mind that’s hard to find while away from the water.
I also very much enjoy teaching river skills – in addition to the IRF workshops I also do swift water rescue courses, which are really rewarding for me – sharing tips and tricks with other river people. It gives me a chance to learn from their mistakes and ideas, and to help spread river awareness as well as safety and rescue skills.
Wrapping my raft on a Level IV Course, climbing on top of the rock and high-fiving a student, looking forward to the excellent learning opportunity for my team- and then spotting another student entrapped in the raft underwater. Trying to get him out of the foot loop he was stuck in, swimming after his unconscious body – for about a minute I thought he was dead. It all turned out good in the end, but that was a bit of a shake up for me.
Any advice for anyone new to rafting?
Do your rounds – try to see as many different rivers as you can. I was lucky to get chances to work on 4 continents and many different rivers, and that taught me more than doing lap after lap after lap on the same stretches. Also – look after your body! Stretch regularly, eat well. And of course: Safety first!
How do people know where to find you ?
Most of the northern summer you’ll find me in the upper Inn valley in Austria and Switzerland, guiding rafting or canyoning trips, doing IRF workshops or Rescue3 river rescue courses. I try to do a level 2, a level 3, and a level 4 guide workshop every year, and a couple of rescue courses as well. If you’re interested – just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org!
See you on the river!
Bijan is part of our River Family. Are You?
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We’re looking for more stories of River Family – if you have a story to tell, email Sean with your story and photos.