Enjoy the water, but SUP safely
May 20, 2016
Utah is known for its incredible variety of outdoor recreation, and a big part of that is the state’s lakes and rivers. As people take to the water in increasing numbers, safety becomes all the more important. Ty Hunter, boating programs manager with Utah’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said it is their top priority.
"As we stand this year, we have one motorboat fatality and one paddle craft fatality, both at Lake Powell," he said. "And we had an extremely close call at Utah Lake, where an individual was paddling on a kayak and overturned. Thankfully he was wearing a lifejacket and was able to keep afloat while rescuers made their way out to him."
One area where Hunter said Parks staff has seen exponential growth is in standup paddleboarding. He said he first started noticing it more than five years ago when he was the manager at Utah Lake State Park.
"Going out and doing patrols, I really started to see it take off," he said. "Over the last five or so years in Utah, it has been growing, and particularly in the last few years it has just exploded."
The hobby has grown so much so fast, he said, that you can walk into just about any big box store and find standup paddleboards for sale.
"They’re relatively inexpensive and so we are getting a lot of people who are buying them and just heading right out to the water, and they don’t have a whole lot of safety information," he said. "That’s probably the biggest issue that is out there right now. We want to make sure folks have the information before they go so they can go home at the end of the day."
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Another hurdle Hunter said Parks staff is trying to overcome is the idea that all board sports are the same — namely, that what works for surfing will also work for standup paddleboarding.
"In big water, extreme surfing, you’ll see them wearing life jackets. But in typical surfing, they don’t, and for several reasons," Hunter said. "They want to be able to get under the wave, to get below the water to avoid getting hit by their board or other surfers.
"The perception seems to be what is good for the surf is good for flat water and that is just not the case."
That is why Hunter said Parks staff has been working hard this year to reach out to the standup paddleboarding community, to get across the importance of wearing a lifejacket. Standard lifejackets can be hot and bulky, often because they are meant for wearers who are repeatedly submerging themselves, which does not happen with standup paddleboarding. But there are lighter, inflatable models, Hunter said, that don’t have that problem.
"An example of a good one is the Onyx M-16, which is the smallest inflatable I can find," he said. "I’m not trying to sell that one in particular, but I know something like it would be very popular with this community."
Hunter uses the word ‘community’ but he said part of the trouble he is having is that there really isn’t one. There is no organizing body he can reach out to and know all standup paddleboarders will get the message. That is why he said local and regional groups like Park City Standup Paddleboarding are so important.
"Having them around is huge," Hunter said. "They are probably the most organized group in the paddle community in all of Utah, period. And you don’t see many groups going out there and organizing cleanup days. I see it happening with the paddle community and I wonder how we can all come together, bring them into the family."
This outreach effort isn’t just about safety. Hunter said he also wants to start a dialogue with standup paddleboarders to learn what their needs are, whether those needs are being met, what kinds of facilities they would like to see and how they can work out a way to fund them.
Beginning Saturday and running through Friday, May 27, Hunter said Utah Parks and Recreation will be celebrating National Safe Boating Week with giveaways on its Facebook page and other activities. Whatever he can do to engage with standup paddleboarders, Hunter said he will do it.
"I would love to have those users come to the table and help us, because if it is their ideas we are instituting they will support us and be fully behind us," Hunter said. "It will be a win-win in the end."
For more information or to share ideas for paddle sport needs, call 801-538-BOAT or email USPRBoating@utah.gov , or visit Boating.Utah.gov. In addition, National Safe Boating Week information and giveaways can be found at http://www.Facebook.com/UtahStateParksBoatingProgram.
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