Tip Your Fucking Guide


Original artwork from @Sonja_Tierney on Instagram. Follow her, or the Editor-in-Chief will eat his fucking dog.


We’ve heard every variation of horse-shit your guilt-ridden mind could possibly concoct.

I forgot my wallet at the Airbnb. I didn’t bring cash cause I was worried it might get wet. We’ll Venmo you on the ride home. Blah, blah fucking-blah. Save it.

There’s an ATM in the office, and if you were really gonna use Venmo, you’d just do it right then and there. Stop embarrassing yourself. We know you’re full of shit, and you do too. Would you stiff a hardworking waiter or waitress after a family meal? Of course not.

You know who doesn’t tip? The kind of guy who uses Facebook as fuel for masturbation and still eats his boogers when he thinks no one’s looking.

So, don’t stiff your river guide either. We didn’t top off your Diet Coke or make sure the kitchen knew to burn your home-fries. But we did spend half our day making you smile with an endless barrage of dad jokes.

We forced ourselves to giggle at your brother’s jabs about living in “a van down by the river”.

We educated your son on the local flora and fauna.

We took the time to talk your daughter down and ease her fear of drowning.

We nodded earnestly as you spoke ad nauseam about your career in medical device sales. And most importantly, we kept you, your family, and your friends alive. Yeah, believe it or not, the boat doesn’t know where to go on its own. You’re still breathing, and not a waterlogged carcass bouncing between rocks, because of the countless hours your guide put in to learn the technical aspects of navigating big whitewater. A 20% gratuity isn’t an outrageous ask. From the outside, the life of a river guide seems charmed. To you, we are sun-kissed free spirits bouncing from one adventure to another and living life on a never-ending high. When we’re not getting paid to splash around in America’s most beautiful places, we’re clustered around campfires, telling stories and slugging a seemingly endless supply of PBR. We never bother with deodorant, rarely shower, and only occasionally wear prophylactics. Such a carefree existence. But what you don’t see, is that it’s a struggle to make this lifestyle work. The girl who pulled your wife back into the boat after she fell into that Class V rapid and then talked her down from a panic attack, all while still relaying paddle instructions to five other guests? She’s subsisted on a diet of PB&J and expired groceries for years in order to develop the skill-set necessary to pull off that save and keep the boat on course. That dude from Georgia who provided life-saving medical care to the unconscious kayaker you came across on what was supposed to be a mellow Class III trip? He spent a quarter of his winter earnings on a Wilderness First Responder course. Then his truck’s water pump blew. If he doesn’t source enough dough from guests this summer, he may be stuck in that little whitewater town you’re visiting, and there’s no work come summer’s end. In the winter, as we wait tables and shovel off roofs to keep ski dreams alive, there’s a reptilian landlord breathing down our necks for outrageous rent. One bad break, like an emergency trip to the veterinarian, or a torn ACL on the mountain, and we’re evicted. Someone who inherited a family fortune, or had their uncle hook them up with an entry level position at an investment firm two decades ago, will read this and say, “Well, you made the decision to take a job that doesn’t pay well. Not my problem.” First, I would ask that douche person to chill with the judgment. Take a tab of acid for me one time, bruh.

Then, I’d agree.

Guides live on next to nothing. Outfitters pay us peanuts. It’s not their fault; it’s just the nature of the business and what they have to do to survive. And, we knew that when we signed up.

We made a choice. It’s not your job to feel bad for us. But, I’m not suggesting you tip your guide out of pity. I’m suggesting you do it out of respect. Because river guides have decided to put everything they have into a path that offers no guarantee of what most would say an individual absolutely needs: safety, security, stability, etc. And, they’ve made that choice simply because they love something. It’s not easy. No parents are stoked on their kids living out of a tent or turning their vehicle into a home and showering intermittently (at best). There are constant reminders from others that we’re not doing what we’re “supposed” to do.


Every guide has been told at one point or another that they, “Need to grow up. Life can’t be all fun and games forever.” You probably agree. But, if you were to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, as you tighten that tie and button those slacks, would you really be able to tell yourself that you’re happy you grew up?

Maybe you can. I’m not criticizing anyone who’s taken a traditional path. I don’t know what makes you tick. To each their own. I respect your choice. You may have gone to law school, medical school, or earned an MBA. None of that is easy. It takes work, sacrifice, and a willingness to grind. Bravo to you, sir or madam. But, at the end of the road for you lies peace of mind and the knowledge that so long as you show up, your financial future is assured.

When you commit yourself to full-time dirtbaggery, there are no guarantees. To become a river guide requires sacrifice, too. A different kind, but sacrifice nonetheless.

To get good, like really good, it requires years and years of paddling. Our bodies and minds are put through the ringer all summer long. We watch friends back home get engaged, become homeowners and have babies, all as we spoon our dog to sleep in the back of a truck.

Sometimes it weighs on us that we may have made poor, childish choices.

But still, we show up every day, we shake off that doubt, and smile as we scrub your funk out of the wetsuits and booties. We do that, and hope that you and your loved ones will have enough fun and feel enough of a thrill to thank us with a gratuity. We’re not expecting a fistful of cash (though we certainly wouldn’t say no). Just enough so that we can carry on the dream for another day. Next time you book a river trip, shake your guide’s hand. Look them up and down, and recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who has exhibited rare, relentless devotion to a way of life, despite the dozens of ‘rational’ minds that have discouraged them from the start.

I’m not saying river guides are heroes. We’re mostly drunks and degenerates. We’re also passionate people with conviction you won’t find elsewhere. We’re people who refuse to be anyone but ourselves, who have committed every bit of our being to each other, and to the wild places we love, no matter the cost and no matter what the world tells us. In an era where most people silence their hearts and simply do what they’re told, river guides remain defiant. If more of society would go after what truly makes them light up inside, we’d all be better off.

With offensive armpits, hearts that thump real fucking hard, and nicotine-stained fingertips, guides across America are busy clawing out an existence that excites them. We don’t want your charity. We want a modicum of respect.

We’re not asking for handouts. We’re asking for decency.

If you can afford to take a family of four rafting, you can afford to tip the person that made it happen.

So, don’t be a booger eater. Or the dude that cranks it to his college-aged daughter’s Facebook friends.


If we made you smile, crack open that wallet and share some green.

Your small act of generosity will play a part in keeping a passionate person’s dream alive, and the beer fridge full. That PBR don’t come free. Not yet, at least.

(if you work for Pabst Blue Ribbon, email our Editor-in-Chief at thedirtlot@outlook.com)


Apparel made by river folk, for river folk. Click here and visit their website.

Follow the RCO team on Instagram @RiverCompanyOutfitters

761 views