The Evolution of Rafting in Russia
In order to understand the situation fully, I will that the beginning of my passion for whitewater started in the Soviet period. This means that there were a lot of whitewater rivers and there was a great desire to paddle, but there was no equipment, no boats for paddling, it was a time of all-out deficit. Therefore, I made my first catamaran from a tent for a truck and medical rubber. Another difficult circumstance for rafting was my work. I graduated from the Higher Military Aviation Institute and worked first at the military airfield, then as a teacher at the Military Aviation School. To participate in river competitions or expeditions, I had to violate the charter and regulations of the military institution, but my passion for rafting was stronger than anything else.
I managed to make long boat trips along the rivers of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and the Altai on my homemade catamaran. In the environment where I lived and worked, my passion was quite strange.
There was a funny time I found in an old abandoned warehouse two wooden sports kayaks, 5 meters long each one. I really wanted to interest other guys in paddling, and I had to move the "precious" kayaks to another city. Kayaks did not fit into the train’s wagon through the main entry. I had to push them through the windows from the platform and kayaks were still sticking out of the window. So I filled two wagons, and delayed the train for an hour.
I brought in many guys from my military service to boating and it changed their life. I do not want to say that all everyone who tried rafting became fans of whitewater, but those people who really fell in love with boating could not keep their usual way of life.
Evolution of the sport
16 years ago, I moved to the Caucasus Mountains, a region with an abundance of rivers. I had decided to stop combining military service with boating, but at that time if you told ordinary people that you wanted to invite them rafting they wouldn't understand you. Almost no one knew what rafting was. There was not one commercial company in my region that offered river rafting, so I decided to be the first.
In addition to the fact that people did not know about the rafting, there were no suitable options to buy equipment. I didn't have enough money, but there was no supply of necessary goods in the market. Well... I was not too lazy to go by train to the border with China, more than 6,000 miles, to take on everything there! It was funny that I as a member of the military had a driver's license, but I've never driven before. For two weeks, while I was driving a new van and equipment from China to home, I learned not only to drive a car, but also to repair it.
Now, every river has rafting companies. Many firms compete with each other, because this service has become very popular! During all the years of business, I changed the concept of my rafting, according to my attitude to this one. In the beginning, I was more inclined to the sport of rafting. I perceived rafting as overcoming adversity and a sport. Over the years, I have learned more about the needs of people, my customers and greatly expanded the concept. I realized that it is important for people to be part of the team, because rafting involves joint efforts. A man experiences a variety of emotions and situations during one whitewater trip, tries to paddle in the team, and feels a sense of safety from it.
Another concept I have tried to develop is that boating gives a unique chance to be in the heart of gorges of mountain rivers. To watch the wildlife as well as feel and be in the power of the flow of the river. Rafting is an opportunity to use the energy of the river in a beautiful eco-friendly way to have clear and peaceful goals on the river. I think these concepts attract people to rafting... and that's why I'm on the water to.
RM: You mentioned your trip across Russia from China, what was the hardest part of that for you psychologically?
Vlad: First, in the east of the country, I bought a minibus on a large market of Japanese used cars. I had enough money only for a car that was sold for disassembly. That is, it was an old van that was planned to disassemble for parts. I do not want to specifically advertise the Japanese auto industry, but this minibus is still on the move.
The most difficult part of the route was a segment in the region of Lake Baikal, eastern Siberia. There was no asphalt on the federal highway, and I drove 125 miles all day. In some cities, I met old friends of fellow students, so I was not lonely.
By the way, driving through the Altai (the Mecca of Russian rafting in central Siberia), I watched how commercial rafting was developed there. During my whitewater travels in the 80s, only tourists and athletes went boating. By the year 2000, Altai became the first region where commercial rafting appeared. And I watched that there were many foreigners among the tourists. This again suggests that Russian tourists later learned what commercial boating is.
RM: You also mentioned that you had to violate Soviet Regulations to go rafting; can you tell me more about that experience?
Vlad: I did not mean the laws of the country as a whole. I was the officer, served in a military flight subdivision at a military airfield. We had a strict schedule. For example, we could not freely leave a military unit; receive vacation at any convenient time. The rafting schedule, and the season for boating, often did not coincide with the regime of the military subdivision where I served.
RM: How has rafting changed the region you live in? What impact has the sport had on local tourism?
Vlad: Rafting was a real impetus to the development of tourism in the region. I work on a boating in the south of the country.
I am sure that rafting is one of the most spectacular and impressive activities for tourists. And the constant increase in interest in rafting proves it. Every year, during the season, I attract an average of 3,000 people to go rafting, and this is an indicator of development of the tourism industry as a whole. The neighboring republics are actively introducing rafting on mountain rivers to attract tourists to the regions.
On the Belaya River in thee Adygheya republic for over 40 years there have been sport rafting competitions «Interalli Belaya».
Thanks to the development of commercial rafting and the popularization of this type of boating, the race has become the brand of the region. Over the past 10 years, interest in competitions and sports has grown significantly. In addition, I founded a local rafting federation to attract amateur teams to rafting.
If at the beginning of my activity I persuaded people to go boating, now I don’t need to explain why people need rafting. Everyone understands that rafting is tourism and sport, which is available to everyone.
RM: What kind of experience do you want people to get from the river?
Vlad: As I said, at the beginning of the way I promoted sports rafting. Then, with the development of commercial rafting, I wanted to attract more people to the rafting as entertainment.
Recently, I want to attract people to the ecology through rafting. I mean ecology not only in terms of environmental protection. Yes, rafting allows you to fully immerse yourself in nature, to be in the same stream with the river and admire the strength and beauty of the river. I believe that rafting can make people stronger, free from unnecessary and harmful thoughts and habits. For all that, rafting combines sport, human willpower and the unique ability of whitewater.
RM: What do you think the next evolution of rafting is in Russia?
Vlad: Both commercial and sports rafting are developing. Junior athletes show excellent results in international competitions. I believe in their success, because I know how serious the intentions of these guys are. Commercial rafting with its development receives both new opportunities and new restrictions. Everything is clear with the possibilities: the equipment industry, advertising opportunities and the curiosity of tourists are growing and developing. But there are some restrictions on the use of rivers by the state and national parks reserves.
RM: If you could do anything to help young people all over Russia be better rafters what would it be and why?
Vlad: I often speak as a teacher at rafting seminars held on the Belaya River. It is very important for me to pay attention to the safety of boating. Popularity of white water rafting should be compensated by knowledge of safe boating especially when it comes to commercial rafting.