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River Language Explained

Often you will hear kayakers or boaters talking among themselves in a strange language. It’s English, but not quite. There are strange words usually accompanied by excited or nervous expressions. This is river language, and it’s a spoken by a special breed of folks. We are going to give you the inside on what a few of those words and sayings really mean.



Boof, There it Is.

Nice boof, is one of these sayings often uttered by one kayaker to another. A boof is the act of lifting the bow of a whitewater kayak while going over rocks, waves, or waterfalls, in order to launch over hydraulics, holes or rocks. This helps to keep the boat on the surface of the water when landing a drop which keeps the boater out of places that are no bueno to be in. This word was originally coined because of the “boof” sound the boat made once it hit the water again. There is also a boof-stroke, which raises the boat for a short period of time.



Shred the Gnar

Gnar is a term that shouldn’t need much explanation. This term has been lovingly used to describe many aspects involved in the kayaking lifestyle. Generally speaking, the “gnar” really just means the gnarly section of whitewater that’s hopefully at flood stage you’re about to “shred” your way through. Gnarly lost it’s cool a few years back, but gnar seems it’s here to stay, at least for now. Urban dictionary also helps to shine some light on their definition of gnar.


River Cute

This term is often used to raft guides to describe guys and gals that happen to be in the boat with them all damn day. In the beginning of the day, that guy or gal might not be so attractive. However, after 8 hours of only getting to see really that one person within your age range suddenly they become quite attractive, even cute? Beware, this is river cute! They are only attractive because you’re tired and hungry and need a beer. River cuteness can cause blindness, confusion, as well as short lived relationships.



Heady Brah

Another fantastic bro-brah word, “heady” can be used to describe many things that are just plain great. It can be a perfect line you took, a new boat you just bought, or even a sweet new hoodie that was purchased at an electronic music festival. Anyway you slice it, heady is something that’s a cut above the rest or top of it’s class. This can also be used to describe an individual person as 1) a derogatory term to denote one who is overly occupied in the pursuit of ‘headiness.’




This word can refer to the delicious stout beer that will be enjoyed after paddling, but most often means a stout drop or hole. One can use this term as in, ” damn, that looks stout” as they are sizing up a rapid or section of creek or river. Any stout section or rapid is just like it’s alcoholic counterpart – dark, strong, and may put you on your ass.

These and other fine words are all collectively including in the genre we consider river language. These words can be mingled and intertwined in unique ways to come up with even more confusing speech that we all seem to just understand.



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