Helmets and personal flotation devices strongly encouraged, leashes banned
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — A week from Saturday, if all goes as planned, Bend Park and Rec’s Whitewater Park will open back up for surfers for the first time since a teen’s tragic death this spring. But not without numerous changes, including more signs, webcam modifications, a strong recommendation for helmets and personal flotation devices, and a ban on leashes.
“We understand that there’s a lot of feelings and different perspectives on leashes, and our intention is to prohibit the use of leashes,” Bend’s Park and Recreation District Communications Manager Julie Brown said Thursday.
Brown said in a river environment, leashes, labeled quick-release or not, create more of a hazard, and one is believed to have played a role in the April 30 incident that killed Ben Murphy, 17.
To enforce the new no-leash policy, wave-shapers will flatten the waves if they’re observed in use at the waterpark.
The president of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, Justin Rae, points out the difference between ocean surfing and the relatively new sport of river surfing.
“Ocean surfing, especially in the Oregon coast, (and) a lot of the popular areas, there’s a sand break,” Rae said, meaning there are fewer rocks.
Rae said using a surfboard leash in the ocean helps with buoyancy, but in the river, where the flow is ongoing, there’s a higher chance of getting trapped.
The use of breakaway leashes however, is not completely off the table for future discussion.
“The problem we have, is that right now, there are no breakaway leashes manufactured,” Rae said.
Rae said many people design those leashes themselves, which makes creating a standard difficult.
Also, more signage will be added around the park highlighting risks and reinforcing policy.
To encourage greater safety, Bend’s Park and Recreation District is working with the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance to provide safety gear on a loan basis for those who don’t have their own.
“We’re going to have loaner equipment available,” Brown said. “We’re going to have helmets, we’re going to have PFDs available right here on the (whitewater park) island. Our ask is that surfers who may not already own those pieces of equipment make use of what we have available here.”
Now, with the easy accessibility to loner gear, Rae said it will likely encourage more usage.
“I think that everyone is kind of looking at the incident that happened six weeks ago and really analyzing, ‘Okay, what risk is out there?'” Rae said.
The loaner equipment will be placed on the island where the surfers typically line up. It will be up to the integrity of individuals to use and return the gear.
As for later additions, the coming web camera modifications will allow for a greater range of motion, capturing more angles and areas at the water park. Informational sessions will also be organized and offered to the public.
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