Family owned and operated for almost 50 years, Wet River Trips is determined to stay that way so we can share our love and passion for running rivers with our guides and guests by focusing on quality experiences instead of focusing on taking as many people as possible down the river each day. We are professionals at fun.
One of the original river outfitters in California, WET River Trips was started by Steve & Betty Liles in 1978. Together they pioneered guided rafting trips on the 3 forks of the American River. When it was time for them to retire, Chad Richards did not want to see this unique company become another one of the conglomerate river outfitters that were destroying what he had made him fall in love with rafting at the age of 8, and kept him working in the industry as a guide and manager for over 30 years. After being a full-time professional raft guide, instructor, and operations manager he decided to take over WET so that he could provide the opportunities and life-changing experiences that he had received from the industry to other guides and the guests they would take down the river.
I went on my first rafting trip when I was 8 years old. My parents to me and my brother on the Camp 9 section of the Stanislaus River just before it was flooded by the New Melones Dam. I didn’t know it then but being the birthplace of both the river rafting industry in California as well as the fight to protect rivers for everyone’s enjoyment, it was very fitting that this was my first white water rafting experience.
My Dad took me on a few other rafting trips on the Lower Klamath and South Fork American Rivers, as I was growing up. I fell in love with being outside on rivers, to the point that I told everyone I would be a white water guide when I grew up.
There is even a family story about us renting rafts and taking them on a river in Oregon (No one remembers which one). One raft had my Mom, Dad, and Grandparents the other was me and my brother. My parents flipped their raft and were terrified. When they got out they frantically searched up and down the river for me and my brother, sure that we had flipped as well and would be terrified or worse. Instead, they found us at the take-out location with huge grins having had the times of our lives.
When I was 18 years old, just out of high school, I came across a letter as I was unpacking in my new apartment about a guide school. I thought to myself, this is how I become a white water guide, I’m going. As soon as I got to guide school that was it, I never left, despite trying to escape and having a “normal” career.
As I got older I continued to guide full-time while getting degrees in river policy and fishery biology. Eventually, after doing everything I wanted to do as a rafting guide, guiding on the hardest commercially rafted river in the world, pioneering numerous rivers by either being the first to successfully raft them or running rivers at higher levels than they had ever been successfully run at before (and many since), instructing guides and teaching Swift Water Rescue course in the United States and internationally, etc., I made a true effort to get a “normal” life. I became a teacher and taught Middle School P.E. But, I always came back to guiding every summer. Despite telling myself I would only guide a few trips each summer, friends and owners would call me and I would always end up guiding full-time again. Finally, I came to the realization that I had been a raft guide for over half of my life, it’s what I do and what I’m good at, so why fight it? Embrace it. And that’s exactly what I did.
When it was time for Steve and Betty Liles to retire, I couldn’t watch their company be swallowed up by another large company trying to create a few big “Wal-Mart” companies and destroying what made the whitewater rafting industry so unique and special. I had seen these companies become so focused on becoming the biggest and increasing their bottom line that instead of providing life-changing experiences to guests and guides they were now more like assembly lines pushing people down the river like cattle. So, despite knowing full well that I would never make much money and would have to work endless hours and days, I bought WET River Trips, because I wanted to give back to the whitewater rafting industry for all it had given me. And yes, I certainly haven’t become rich doing this and I work more than I probably should (just ask my friends and family), I have been paid back 100 fold. By keeping what I fell in love with when I was a child alive. Providing the opportunities I had to other guides and the guests they get to share those experiences with. And running a company like I felt it should be run, that is guide driven. After all, they are the ones who are on the river and interacting with the guests.