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Water Safety for SUP

Two recent tragedies involving stand up paddlers this past weekend should be a reminder to all of us that no matter how easy and fun SUP can be, the power and danger of water still exists. Closest to home, a 39 year-old woman died in Gold Beach, Oregon on the Checto River when her surfboard leash caught on a snag and she was trapped underwater. A 50 year-old Tampa, Florida man went missing while paddling on Saturday night. His board washed up on shore along with his wallet, car keys and cellphone.

Here are a few things to consider before you head out on your next paddle to ensure it’s not your last.

Think about the type of water you will paddling. A board leash can be a great precaution, but when paddling close to shore or through debris it can be dangerous. One solution is a quick-release waist leash that can be detached easily should it get snagged. 

If you are a newbie, consider a location with minimal or no current. Vancouver Lake is a great spot to paddle and less then 20 minutes from Portland.

Many of us paddle solo, but beginners should use the buddy system until they have mastered the basics.

Evaluate water temperature and discharge rate. The USGS website provides information on both measurements as well as water height. Gorge guru Bob Rueter recommends paying particular attention to discharge rate. While a gallon of water may only weigh around 8 lbs, a cubic foot of water weights nearly 62.5 lbs. Now consider that the Willamette river can have a flow rate as high as 200,0oo cubic feet per second and you begin to understand how powerful our little river can be.

Be extra cautious around docks and anywhere where the river flow is condensed.  This is very noticeable right now near the Sellwood Bridge construction area.

If launching from a dock, always depart from the down current side.

Watch the flow around buoys to gauge current. When paddling across current (such as coming around Ross Island heading for Willamette Park) look across the river and keep two points in sight. One point should be on shore and one just behind it upstream of your target.

Never paddle without your PFD.

So head out this weekend and enjoy the beauty and power of our waterways in Oregon. But be careful, we want to see you back in the shop next week.

Do you have a safety tip or words of wisdom about paddling our local waterways?  Share it with us in the comments below.

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