Kyle Brock wasted no time putting his group of rafting clients at ease as they assembled along the Spokane River.
“Have any of you been whitewater rafting before?” he asked, nodding and smiling when most of them raised their hands.
“That’s great because this is the first time for me and our guides.”
It was the first of several deadpan jokes Brock delivered as he shuttle-bused the group of men and women to the put-in at the T.J. Meenach Bridge just a few miles from downtown Spokane.
The conversation eased to a more professional tone as he introduced the rafters to the student guides he’d trained from the Gonzaga University Outdoors Program.
Everyone was fitted with a life vest before Brock departed to pick up the next of five groups his Wiley E. Waters rafting company would usher through the Bowl and Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail rapids that Saturday.
“Having the river in the heart of our city is a treasure,” he said. “It’s a great place to work.”
Brock, 50, is a special-education teacher at West Valley High School, but his summers are devoted to helping people get wet and wild on the Spokane River as well as the Clark Fork River in Montana.
He started the business 19 years ago with two rafts and 14 life jackets. “I needed something to fill my summer because I’m not very good at sitting around,” he said.
He was introduced to the thrill of rafting during outings to Hells Canyon of the Snake River while attending Lewis-Clark State College.
The range of people that can enjoy a whitewater trip is huge, he said, noting his Wiley E. Waters clientele has ranged from ages 5 to 90.
“The name came from my nickname in baseball and softball,” said Brock, who played first base for a national championship team at L-C State. “I was pretty good on the bases, so they called me Wiley.”
The business has grown to include several shuttle buses, trailers and a fleet of 14 rafts piloted by a stable of guides he trains each spring.
“It’s still a small business, but it gets involved and we’re always updating equipment,” Brock said.
He expands the season through early September by moving operations to the Alberton Gorge portion of the Clark Fork River when the Spokane River flows become too low.
The experience Wiley E. Waters offers stretches beyond the families, couples, student groups and friends who book the company’s day trips.
“Many of the student guides I train subcontract with me in the fall to help with a big event to welcome incoming freshman at Gonzaga and help them bond. They provide a three-day outing for them on the Clark Fork – camping, rafting, hiking and biking. It’s a great experience.”
The training that goes on weeks before customers board their rafts is the key to successfully running his business for two decades, he said.
The greatest risk to river rafters on his trips: “Sunburn,” he said.