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Behind the Name: Independent Whitewater

founding fathers

We get asked this question all the time: What’s with the name? In short, it’s a nod to our humble beginnings rafting the Ark over 40+ years ago. Our name takes us back to where it all began, so we’ll start our story there.

Back in 1979, only a handful of people rafted the Arkansas River and Bill Block, IW’s original owner, was one of them. He loved the experience so much that eventually, he started taking paying customers to share the exhilaration of whitewater rafting, making him one of the first commercial companies in the Arkansas Valley.

But Bill was just one guy with one boat. So when word got around and more people wanted to try, he called up his rafting buddies. They would then bring their own rafts, paddles, and life jackets. These “independent” contractors were the first IW guides and the inspiration for Bill to name his company Independent Whitewater.

Eventually, Bill started to build more boats and recruit guides—soon the company as we know it today began. In 1999, Mike Whittington and Wiley Ledwith took over and they’re still at it today, floating people down that same river to enjoy those same rapids Bill fell in love with back in the 70s.

Why should people choose to raft with IW?

In some ways, our history helps answer that. When Bill started, the rafting on the Arkansas wasn’t big business. It was just a really fun thing to do. And while the industry has evolved and changed in many ways since 1979, Mike and Wiley’s motivation to take people rafting still stems from the basic love of the river that started it all 43 years ago. They still raft in their spare time, they still love what they do, and they still love seeing people experience the genuine fun and excitement that only the river can bring. It’s evident in the grassroots vibe and family atmosphere you’ll find when you visit us and in the high-quality trips we run every day of the summer.

So come see us! You’ll experience the excitement of whitewater that drew Bill in so many years ago and you’ll almost surely see Mikey and Wiley—they both work pretty much every day and might even guide your boat. As for Bill Block? He’s still part of the IW family and still drives the vans taking rafters to the river. Be sure to say hi! ☺ ♥