How The New River Rapids Got Their Names

The New River is rafted by tens of thousands of people every summer. Rafters are guided through rapids rated class I – IV, and those rapids all have unique names. If you’ve rafted the New River many times you may know the names of the rapids by heart. But how much do you know about how those rapids got their names?
Many of the names, like the Railroad rapids or the Kaymoor rapids, are pretty easy to figure out. They are named for river landmarks (i.e. the railroad bridge or the Kaymoor mines). Others though, like Dudley’s Dip, are a bit more intriguing. Read on…
Double Z

Double Z Rapid

This rapid’s name evolved over time. Originally this rapid was called Sunset because when folks first started running the New River, the trip took an extremely long time and the sun was literally starting to set behind the mountain by the time rafters got to this rapid. The boats weren’t self-bailing, making for a much slower trip that we know today.
As guides’ knowledge of the river increased and equipment became more advanced, trips moved along and rafters were no longer running this rapid in the evening. The name Sunset no longer applied, so the rapid was renamed Double Z. This name comes from the zig zag direction that the rafts must make to safely navigate the rapid at lower water levels. You literally have to make two full Z’s to miss all the obstacles and maneuver through the tight channels of this rapid.
Hook 99

Hook 99 Rapid, Photo by ACE Adventure Resort

Commonly called Turtle Rock rapid by many of today’s raft guides, the Hook 99 name originated from one of the pioneer paddlers of the New River, Richard Harmon. Richard had a boat with a racing number 99 on it. When he wedged the boat under a rock in this rapid, it was given the names Harmon 99 or Hook 99.
The name Turtle Rock is more commonly used nowadays. It comes from the two rocks in the middle of the rapid that appear to form a turtle at lower flows. The downstream side of the rock that forms the turtle’s head bears a plaque in memory of Richard Harmon.
This rapid’s name is fairly self-explanatory, in that it tells you that something surprising is about to happen. Just what that surprise is depends on the line you cut through the water. The first few miles of a trip originating in Thurmond will lull paddlers into a false sense of security. None of the rapids encountered in this stretch have much in the way of punch. Until Surprise, that is.
Even looking at this rapid up-close, it’s hard to see what is so surprising about it. At the right levels, the deep, pulsing hole formed by a rock is fairly innocent looking until the raft drops into it. Surprise rapid is great at reminding paddlers that this is a wild river and not an amusement park ride.
Other rapids on the New River that have interesting names are Greyhound, Miller’s Folly and Thread the Needle. We figured the stories behind those names would make good questions for your raft guide on your next trip.
Do you have any memories of the rapids on the New River?