Accidents and CrashesBend Park and Rec accepts report on Whitewater Park teen surfer’s death,...

Bend Park and Rec accepts report on Whitewater Park teen surfer’s death, OKs planned changes, June 18 reopening

Bend Park and Rec accepts report on Whitewater Park teen surfer’s death, OKs planned changes, June 18 reopening

(Update: Park board approves plans to improve surf wave safety, reopen June 18 if conditions met, adding video)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — A combination of low spring river levels, a tangled quick-release leash and small gaps between parts of the Bend Whitewater Park’s “surf wave” contributed to the death of a teen surfer this spring, investigators said Tuesday as they outlined changes made and planned to reduce the risk of a repeat tragedy.

The April 30 incident that killed Bend 17-year-old Ben Murphy prompted closure of that channel of the whitewater park pending an extensive investigation of what went wrong and a variety of steps are taken to reduce the risk – though all involved told the Bend Park and Rec Board it’s impossible to completely eliminate that risk in a turbulent whitewater environment.

Various structural changes, including addition of so-called “sweepers,” have already been made to eliminate the gaps between the pneumatic gates and bladders that control the shape of the wave and the “static kickers” added to help provide optimum conditions.

Deputy Executive Director Michelle Healy said Murphy’s recovered quick-release leash was broken off and “evidence showed it was very stretched, which indicated it probably was under high stress. Throughout the length is black rubber, likely from the protective black around the gates – that’s our best estimate where that came from.”

“It’s likely he got tangled,” she said, “so the combination between the lower water levels, the space that exists between those gates and the leash he was wearing resulted in the accident we saw that day.”

The park board agreed to the proposed changes, including barring the use of leashes in the park, though several surfers later during the visitors’ section told the board they believed the leash wasn’t a key factor in the tragedy — that his foot was trapped — and that losing the board without a leash will create more possible dangers as they go downriver.

Park board member Nathan Hovekamp later made the motion, approved 4-0, to accept the proposed recommendations and changes, though he and others said they want to closely monitor the situation and discuss how the no-leash issue, among other changes, have worked in a late-summer revisiting by the board.

Justin Rae, president of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, which has been involved in the investigation and planned changes, noted “there are no standards for river surfing out there,” which he said “is a fairly new sport.” But the goal is amid varied skill sets “how to keep it as safe as possible in a whitewater environment.”

A surfing equipment vendor said breakaway leashes could be required to make sure they don’t play a role; a surfer who helped pulled the teen from the water said his foot got stuck and the leash wasn’t why he died.

Personal floatation devices and helmets designed for whitewater use will be strongly recommended, with signs emphasizing them as standard river surfing gear and “loaners” will be made available through a partnership between the park district, the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and Cubicle.

The park district also will look at upgrading the air compressor chamber so adjustments to the gates can be made more quickly.

Other suggestions from the visitors included having a BPRD lifeguard on scene. One surfer claimed many were well aware of the gaps in the surf wave segments and believed it would eventually kill someone.
“This is not hindsight 20/20 — it’s negligence, in my opinion,” he said.

But Healy said after a break that the whitewater park wasn’t designed for leash use and a sign warning against their use has been in place since the beginning. “Maybe technology will change,” she acknowledged.

Hovekamp said he respected the surfers’ comments but that he supported the changes as proposed and glad to hear the evaluation will continue after the planned surf wave reopening on June 18.

NewsChannel 21’s Kelsey McGee was at the meeting and will have a report First at Ten on Fox. Here are the park district’s news release and the documents and presentations from the meeting.

Bend Park and Recreation District completes surf wave evaluation

Following modification and operational changes, reopening planned for June 18

Bend, Ore. – (June 7, 2022) – The Board of Directors for the Bend Park and Recreation District discussed a recent tragic accident at the Bend Whitewater Park and accepted a reopening plan for the surf wave at the June 7 public meeting.

Following the accident that occurred on April 30, the surf wave at the Bend Whitewater Park has been flattened for a thorough evaluation. During a work session presentation, BPRD staff and the president of Bend Paddle Trail Alliance shared results of the evaluations, including contributing factors to the accident, risk assessment, recommendations and reopening considerations. In business session, the board voted to accept the reopening plan for the surf wave.

Tentative reopening of the surf wave is scheduled for June 18.

Contributing factors to the accident

  • Video evidence indicates that Ben Murphy, the surfer, fell off his board at the interface between the static wave block and pneumatic (moveable) gate, on river left.
  • Water levels on April 30 were seasonally low, which can make it more likely for a surfer to come in contact with the bottom of the river and/or the gate system. During higher water levels this condition becomes far less likely.
  • Ben was wearing a surf-leash with a quick release, which connects the board to the surfer’s leg. Upon inspection days later, the leash is gray in color and is marked with black rubber across the majority of the length of the leash. The leash was significantly stretched and severed, indicating it experienced intense pressure/load. The black rubber markings likely came from the rubber framing around the pneumatic gate. The black rubber framing is intended to provide protection to a surfer from falling onto the edge of the steel plate.

The evaluation found there is approximately a 1.5”- 2” space between the static block and the pneumatic (moveable) gate that shapes the surf wave. There is also approximately a 3” space between the bottom of the gate and the concrete base where the bladder and gate attach to the bottom slab of concrete that supports the wave feature. A modification to the surf wave blocks has already been installed to reduce this hazard.

Sweepers were installed on the static blocks to eliminate any gap between the pneumatic gate and the static gate. The installation occurred on May 25 in order to take advantage of low-water level conditions. Waiting could have rendered the modification impossible to accomplish until water levels receded in the fall. According to BPRD staff, the installation of the sweepers accomplished the desired effect.

Rules and operational changes taking effect upon reopening include:

  1. Prohibit the use of leashes in the park. To obtain compliance with the rule change, BPRD staff will flatten the wave for all surfers if a leash is observed.
  2. PFDs and helmets will be strongly recommended as whitewater must-haves. Helmets and PFDs worn should be properly fitted and meet appropriate standards for class III or IV whitewater. A communications campaign will educate river surfers with website information, handouts at local retailers, social media, etc.

BPRD staff also committed to research the ability to upgrade the air compressor chamber that inflates and deflates the gate bladders to expedite movement of the gates.  In addition, BPRD plans to add a webcam capable to zoom, tilt and scan to better monitor the entire whitewater park.

The tentative date for reopening the surf wave is pending completion of three items, including the installation of the sweeper that is already completed. Other reopening requirements include a meeting with Bend Fire to revisit emergency protocols and installation of signage at the whitewater park to communicate the new rules.

The board of directors also requested that staff monitor the situation with regard to leashes and adjust as necessary. The topic will be revisited at a board meeting later in the summer.

The post Bend Park and Rec accepts report on Whitewater Park teen surfer’s death, OKs planned changes, June 18 reopening appeared first on KTVZ.
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