Surfing Whitewater in the Age of the Internet by Matt Pascal

Surfing Whitewater in the Age of the Internet by Matt Pascal

Surfing Whitewater in the Age of the Internet by Matt Pascal

The following is a transcript of an online chat with the TRPC Newsletter editor:


Jeff Macklin: any chance you got something for the newsletter?

me: aw man, I don’t . . . are you hurting for material?

Jeff Macklin: yeah, Gary McCormick wrote something, but it stinks

me: you can always count on Gary writing stinky prose!

Jeff Macklin: well, see if you can whip something up

me: okay, but it might not be much better than Gary’s


The conversation transcribed here is not strictly true, but it is not far from the truth.


And so, as requested by the TRPC Newsletter editor, I have written for you my guide to whitewater paddling in the age of the Internet. And, I will even go so far as to conjecture that I am an expert in technology-enhanced whitewater paddling (with the top number of posts on the TRPC board – something I am not proud of).


Online Gauges: The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has streamflow gauges set up all over the country, and those of us who paddle the rivers in the PA/WV/MD tri-state region are lucky to have them well-gauged. For example, Alaska has 98 streamflow gauges as compared to Pennsylvania’s 295 gauges.


You can see the PA gauges at, and other states have the same URL format, just change the state abbreviation.


American Whitewater (AW) River Reaches: Unless a boater has been living in a cave, he or she knows about AW, probably because of the organizations’ River Reaches, an archive of information about different sections of whitewater that can be sorted by state, river, and difficulty level.


If you are one of those who have been in a cave, the URL for the PA Archive is and other states have the same URL format, just change the state abbreviation.


Forecasting: Perhaps the most underused attribute of the Internet for boaters, the websites of various government and private weather data compilers and forecasters are essential to those boaters who need to plan trips that go beyond the reliability of dam released rivers like the Youghiogheny River in both PA and MD.


There are several facets to predicting when the river you’ve been dying to paddle will come up. First, the amount of water that vegetation is ‘drinking’ is important. In the winter, most of the rain runs directly into the creeks and rivers because the trees and plants are in a dormant state. So, a little bit of rain goes a long way. And, snowpack in higher elevations will be melted by rain, contributing to even more water in the creeks and rivers. In the summer, however, the vegetation drinks like crazy. In any season, the likelihood of rain is important, but just how much rain is more so. This information, based on likelihood, is quantified in inches and predicted by the National Weather Service (NWS). Lastly, the Floodwatch system gives current readings in the area’s rain gauges for times ranging to the past 15 minutes to 24 hours. The links below will get you started on your own forecasting process.


  • NOAA’s 3-day Rain Forecast, in inches:
  • Snowpack in the Mid-Atlantic Region:
  • National Doppler Map:
  • Floodwatch Rain Gauges:


Communication: If you haven’t read a paddling message board, then you’re missing out on many facets of the sport. First, purely for entertainment value, the message board for the Monocacy Canoe Club in Frederick, MD, “Paddle Prattle”, is as good as it gets. Find it at and be ready for a laugh. Beyond that, however, there are many useful aspects of message boards like our own at, where members as well as non-members post multiple times daily to organize pick-up trips, ask questions about gear, report strainers and other hazards in local waterways, and to use as a free forum for publishing limericks when nobody else will publish them. On the national scale, BoaterTalk, at is a highly active board. Beyond this, every paddling organization worth its salt in the 21st century hosts a message board. Do a Google search for “paddling club message board” and you’ll find dozens, many of which are not far from our region.


Showcasing: While message boards often act as a public forum for many to showcase their trips and whitewater stories, some create their own platform. They can offer their own paddling experiences to the public eye by hosting websites, aka ‘blogs’, with archives of trip reports and other information. Some critics see this as showboating, but there is information to get from such outlets. You can find out about a new run; play move; rescue technique or other skill; or product that may not have been otherwise publicized and, in general, see what other boaters are doing.


To get started, check out TRPC member Jason Hilton’s paddling blog at or my personal blog,, which often accounts some of my paddling adventures. From these two you will find the links to other blogs. The network of boating bloggers is well connected, and so surfing can be done from one blog to the next.


Commerce: Arguably the best reason for boaters to be online, Internet sales of paddling-related products enable us to find all of the best products and have them delivered directly to us. With the relatively small market for whitewater gear, very few outdoor stores (in fact none in Pittsburgh) carry a sufficient variety to outfit a whitewater boater. Rather, the brick-and-mortar shops that are sufficient are typically in the same places as the whitewater itself and should be patronized when there. But, the convenience and variety afforded with Internet shopping cannot be matched.


In addition to being blessed with nearby paddling shops in Ohiopyle, New Stanton, Confluence, Friendsville, and Morgantown, TRPC members also have online retailers among our membership. Jeff Prycl has been running Rocky Mountain Kayaks ( for years, is now online, and carries the full assortment of gear from boats to pogies. And, Scot Loveland recently kicked off his online store,, featuring his signature Paddle Grip product and off-the-water fashion.


So, with this basic set of tools, off we go. Read about a new scenic or challenging run on a blog, check it out through the AW River Reaches, get more information and find some boaters to join you via a message board, and gear up with the dozens of online retailers out there. Then, when the forecasting tools tell you that the rain is on its way, check the rain and river gauges before you leave the house.