Rob Casey is the owner of Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle and is the author of two paddling guides.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

SUP Death on the River.. When to Wear a Leash

Last weekend a woman drowned when her leash got snagged on a tree on the Chetco River near Brookings, Oregon. Story Here.

River SUP is certainly a hoot, but it's also very dangerous.  Good river SUP instruction is required before hitting the water.  Leashes are catch 22. They can keep you from losing your board in a fall but also can create a major issue if it gets caught on a log, branch, or rock.

A Few River Hazards:
- Strainers: Logs or branches in the river. Water runs under these and you can get trapped if you try to paddle near, on, or under.  I've heard a few sketchy stories from friends over the years who have barely escaped strainers.

- Pins:  When a paddler's boat or board gets lodged in between rocks or logs.  We lost a good friend and river instructor a few years ago on the Green River in WA State when he was pinned upside down.

The Problem with Leashes:
Leashes can certainly prevent from getting separated from your board on a river, but they can also lead to other issues.  Leashes can in the case of the gal mentioned above get caught on logs, branches, and rocks. When they do, they can pull you under making it nearly impossible to release from you.

When to Wear a Leash:
On Class 1 (slow rivers) and Class 2+ with no wood (logs) and few rock gardens.

How to Wear your Leash:  
On your waist attached to a quick release belt of your PFD (Type 3) or by a quick release belt with a fastex bucket around your waist. In this way, you have two ways to release the leash from you in case of a pin or other incident.  It make sure the velcro pull tab attached to me is on the outside of my PFD quick release belt, so a pulling down motion will release it.  NEVER WEAR A LEASH ON YOUR ANKLE ON A RIVER.  If your foot gets caught you most likely won't be able to release the leash.  If you're swimming and your leash gets caught by a branch or similar, you won't be able to separate yourself from it and it can pull you under in current.

Straight vs Coiled Leash:
Straight leashes will drag behind your board catching things below the water.  Coiled leashes can catch branches and rocks when you're off the board.

No Leash?
Sometimes it's a good option particuliarly if you have class 1 sections below the area you're playing in or in between rapids.

Recommended River SUP Instruction:
- Otter Bar Lodge, Northern California.
- Dan Gavere, SUP Instruction.
- Adam McKenney, Leavenworth Mountain Sports.
- Strongwater Sports, Montana.

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