Without a paddle

Niseko courseNiseko course

So here I am, still in Niseko. I decided to stay out for the summer (cue Dodgy – great video!) working as a rafting guide for NOASC (Niseko Outdoor Adventure Sports Company).

We’re running two sections of 尻別川 (shiribetsu kawakawa means river and Shiribetsu is its name. Although bizarrely shiri means arse and betsu means separate or different!!! I digress…) – the easier summer (or Kutchan) course and the spring (or Niseko) course further downstrem.

It’s been interesting to learn something new and having only rafted once before (in Switzerland), was definitely a challenge! The first few weeks of training were pretty cold, trudging through snow to reach the river – but it also meant that we got to slide down the banks on the rafts!

Our first milestone was the River Association of Japan (RAJ) exam – where we were tested on basic raft control skills (forward/back paddle, front/back sweep, sculling, drawstroke), flip recovery (climb onto, re-right and climb back onto an overturned raft in less than a minute) and throwbag (hit a 2m-wide target from 12m away with a rescue rope). It turned out to be a pretty easy exam and we all passed it.

So now we’re in the final stages of our training where we need approval to raft on the two separate courses that we run. Here’s where we begin to run into some difficulties.


Firstly ‘approval’ is a pretty ill defined goal, essentially being a totally subjective evaluation from one of the senior guides. There are specific requirements, but even though I’ve fulfilled them, I still haven’t passed.

Secondly, not being an approved commercial guide means that despite the fact that we are essentially guiding, we’re only being paid a daily training allowance of 1000 yen which we can only collect at the end of the season. Hmm. Seems a bit of a rip off.

Funnily enough, this has not been a motivating factor for me and as a result I’ve not really rafted much since the RAJ exam. There does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of paid work on the 11th May, but the long term prospects seem a little grim. I’ve been trying to plug the gaps by making myself useful to the wider company and am working on a few ideas, plus I’m now part-managing the Australian Alpine Club so am paying less rent, but overall, things are pretty tight. We shall see what the future holds…