I hate to start the weekend off on such a sad note, but a week ago today a standup paddler was lost on the Columbia River in Hood River, Oregon otherwise known as the "Gorge." The lost paddler's name was Andres Pombo from Miami Florida and was visiting for a big paddle race that was happening last weekend. Pombo was practicing for the downwind portion of the race when he fell off and was separated from his board in very windy gorge conditions and was essentially never seen again. His body was recovered a couple of days ago down river. While we don’t know the circumstances around why he got separated from his board, there is much speculation about the lack of a leash and other safety equipment. This is a very tragic loss for the standup paddle community and for Pombo's friends and family.
In all the years I have been paddling, I admit, I don’t always wear a leash or even a personal floatation device (life jacket). All of that has changed for me. Since Pombo’s death I now do the following before I paddle:
- I always wear a leash when I paddle.
- I text or call my wife to let her know I am headed out for a paddle.
- Wearing a PFD is the law as set forth by the US Coast Guard, it may not be enforced everywhere but wearing one is a no brainer.
- I try and paddle with a partner or group, not always that easy but safer.
- If I paddle alone I paddle close to shore and navigate around the wind and currents.
There are a significant amount of paddlers hitting the water these days and safety (especially on the SF Bay) should not inhibit getting on the water. Take the right precautions and the right gear to make your paddle safe and most of all fun.