High Water Paddling and Surf Safety
• Brittany Parker
It's not often in Colorado that we are still seeing high water and river flow peaks in July...but here we are, July 1st, and the water keeps rising. Highwater has the ability to turn a mellow class II stretch into a raging class III torrent. Your homestretch can become almost unrecognizable. Rocks that are usually out of water are now big holes, bank erosion causes trees to fall into the river, and debris that have been flushed downstream may build up on any obstruction in their path. But, the higher river levels don't mean you need to avoid the river completely. Here are some high water safety tips to take with you next time you hop on your stand up paddleboard.
- ALWAYS wear a PFD/lifejakcet....high water or not. Never underestimate the power of the river.
- Stay up to date on any new hazards that may have appeared on the river overnight before hitting the water. A great resource for this is whitewater forums such as MountainBuzz.com, your local whitewater Facebook group, or your local rafting outfitter. Scouting the river stretch as much as possible is a great idea, as well.
- During high water your usual eddys might be much smaller or gone completely. Keep this in mind if you know there's an upcoming rapid you might want to portage or scout. Don't hesitate to eddy out a little earlier than usual so you don't run the risk of running a rapid you didn't want to or miss your takeout.
- The river bank can become a dangerous place during highwater. Trees and bushes on the river bank may now be in the river. Be aware of this when you're looking for eddys or places to get out. Get out in a safe eddy that is free of any strainers or other hazards.
- Never go alone and make sure the group stays together.
- When river surfing always make sure the last surfer has made it safely to shore.
- When river surfing regularly look upstream for floating debris and have a whistle attached to your pfd so you're able to warn people on the wave of any hazardous debris moving downstream. (One loud whistle blow is the signal for attention, three whistle blows is SOS)
Remember, the river is powerful and deserves our respect. Nothing is better than the knowledge you can gain from taking a Swift Water Rescue course. We recommend anyone who spends time on the river to take one to make sure you know what to do in an emergency situation on the river. Be safe out there this season and always look out for your fellow river users.
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