Rafting adventures are the vacation of choice for Hollywood execs with a taste for heart palpitations and tight corners

The following classifications come from sports advocacy group American Whitewater, with annotations from V Life Weekend.
Class I: Easy
Fine for bathing
Class II: Novice
Expect the occasional rock
Class III: Intermediate
Bigger waves; still a family ride
Class IV: Advanced
Intense; moderate risk of injury
Class V: Expert
Violent rapids; rescues difficult even for experts
Class VI: Extreme
Death wish required

The night before Lorenzo di Bonaventura led his rafting crew into the Room of Doom, river guide Robby Pitagora went ballistic.

“You can’t do this,” said Pitagora, who has been guiding rafters down the world’s fiercest rivers since 1979. “This is dangerous.”

Producer and rafting rookie Basil Iwanyk rolled his eyes while di Bonaventura tried to soothe Pitagora. This might be the first white-water sighting for some of his companions, but he’d paddled plenty of wild rapids — he’d owned a rafting company with college roommate Michael Kennedy after graduation.

The next morning, standing on the bank of Northern California’s Cal Salmon River with Warner Bros. production head Jeff Robinov, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and producer Scott Strauss, Iwanyk didn’t see the water so much as hear it, a deafening froth of rock-filled rapids, huge standing waves called “haystacks” and “strainers,” branches on the side of the river ready to catch and drown rafters who fall out.

Six years later, Iwanyk says, “I was so angry at myself. I had no idea how terrifying it would be.”

No work allowed

White-water rafting has become a seasonal deliverance for Hollywood execs who seek vacations laced with a hearty dose of testosterone-charged male bonding. Cell phones are useless, whining isn’t tolerated and, if you’re on one of di Bonaventura’s trips, neither is talking about work.

Those who go should expect to paddle hard, get wet and be dressed for 50-degree water, where you will almost surely be dunked. Di Bonaventura oversaw one trip in which 21 out of 22 rafters were forced to swim the rapids. And he’s nearly drowned a few times himself.

“Robinov and I fished him out,” says Iwanyk, who is now a veteran of nine trips and hopes to make his 10th this fall. “We always joke, ‘Did we do the right thing?’ “

Spending a week on rapids with names like Room of Doom, Big Drop and Gaping Maw might seem like a strange way to escape the stresses of showbiz, but di Bonaventura says the industry is unmatched in its ability to prepare rafters for Class V white-water rapids.

“It’s about getting a lot of people with slightly different agendas to all do something in a prescribed period of time through a lot of variables,” he says.

It’s also pretty swank, as these trips aren’t catered by REI. River guides know how to cook, and they don’t go for campfire stews with freeze-dried turkey, either. There’s usually one raft that serves as a floating pantry and it’s stocked with the makings for chicken kabobs, salad with walnut-Gorgonzola dressing and homemade chocolate brownies. The raft’s air-filled sides also provide ample cushioning for favorites like Patron tequila, Sapphire gin and martini shakers.

“Every night you eat and drink and sit around the campfire and have intense conversations,” says Iwanyk. “That’s the allure of it. That’s what I look forward to the most.”

Not all trips are high-octane adventures. Some are along the lines of a “float and bloat” — gentle paddlings not much more daring than the Log Jammer flume ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain. However, the river offers no guarantees.

Henry Winkler remembers one outing with his son, Max, and Kern River Outfitters guide Heidi White. A low-water drift morphed into a rapid known as It’s a Dilly and Winkler soon found himself underwater. “Heidi literally threw herself on my son to keep him in the boat,” says Winkler, who remembered to pull his knees to his chest to navigate the rocks.

White’s guide buddies still tease her: “I can’t believe you sent the Fonz into the drink.”

“Well, he paddled harder after that,” White tells them.

For more information:

Robby Pitagora, www.rapidcreek.com

Heidi White, www.kernrafting.com

Bio Bio Expeditions, www.bbxrafting.com

DO DON’T
Dare to be dumb.
“It’s an opportunity for us to do things that are kind of stupid,” says Iwanyk.
Talk about it later.
What happens on the river, stays on the river.
Wear a wetsuit.
In springtime, river water temperatures don’t get above 55.
Talk about business.
Those who do aren’t invited back.
Expect to feel like you’re drowning.
The cold often causes people to breathe in, inhaling water.
Bring tablecloths and silverware.
This is a rafting trip, after all.


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