▶️ Bend’s Whitewater Park to reopen following surfer’s death, with some changes

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The surf wave at Bend’s Whitewater Park will reopen a week from Saturday, more than a month after a 17-year-old was trapped underwater and died. Surfers should be ready for some rule changes.

Bend Park and Recreation members were presented findings of an evaluation Tuesday, leading to the board voting to reopen the whitewater park tentatively June 18.

“So the combination between the lower water levels, the space that exists between those gates and the leash that he was wearing resulted in the accident that we saw that day,” said BPRD Deputy Executive Director Michelle Healy.

The surfer who died at the popular park became entrapped with gaps of the gates that control the recreation area’s waves on April 30.

“Following the accident that week, we immediately started evaluation and review of what happened as well as of review and evaluation of the park itself and the wave,” said Healy.

BPRD staff heard results and evaluations from the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, including contributing factors, risk assessment, recommendations and reopening considerations.

“So there is a lot of crossing over between ocean surfing and river surfing. So part of that dialog is what we are going to get into today as far as what we can recommend to implement, said President of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance Justin Rae.

No board leashes among new rules at Whitewater Park

BPRD staff made some rule and operational changes upon reopening.

“Prohibiting the use of leashes of any type,” said Healy. “We want to promote and encourage the use of helmets. We need to update some of our signage out there. “We would like to upgrade our webcams,”

Several commenters at the meeting had concerns over not allowing the leashes on surfboards.

The board voted unanimously to accept the reopening plan for the waves.

The date for reopening the surf wave is pending completion of three items:

  • Installation of the sweeper or blocks for those gaps, which is already completed
  • Meeting with Bend Fire and Rescue to revisit emergency protocols
  • Installation of signage at the whitewater park to communicate the new rules

The board also requested that staff monitor the situation with regard to leashes and adjust as necessary. The topic will be revisited at a board meeting later in the summer.

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You can read BPRD’s full release here:

Bend, Ore. – (June 7, 2022) – The Board of Directors for the Bend Park and Recreation District discussed a recent tragic accident at the Bend Whitewater Park and accepted a reopening plan for the surf wave at the June 7 public meeting.

Following the accident that occurred on April 30, the surf wave at the Bend Whitewater Park has been flattened for a thorough evaluation. During a work session presentation, BPRD staff and the president of Bend Paddle Trail Alliance shared results of the evaluations, including contributing factors to the accident, risk assessment, recommendations and reopening considerations. In business session, the board voted to accept the reopening plan for the surf wave.

Tentative reopening of the surf wave is scheduled for June 18.

Contributing factors to the accident

  • Video evidence indicates that Ben Murphy, the surfer, fell off his board at the interface between the static wave block and pneumatic (moveable) gate, on river left.
  • Water levels on April 30 were seasonally low, which can make it more likely for a surfer to come in contact with the bottom of the river and/or the gate system. During higher water levels this condition becomes far less likely.
  • Ben was wearing a surf-leash with a quick release, which connects the board to the surfer’s leg. Upon inspection days later, the leash is gray in color and is marked with black rubber across the majority of the length of the leash. The leash was significantly stretched and severed, indicating it experienced intense pressure/load. The black rubber markings likely came from the rubber framing around the pneumatic gate. The black rubber framing is intended to provide protection to a surfer from falling onto the edge of the steel plate.

The evaluation found there is approximately a 1.5”- 2” space between the static block and the pneumatic (moveable) gate that shapes the surf wave. There is also approximately a 3” space between the bottom of the gate and the concrete base where the bladder and gate attach to the bottom slab of concrete that supports the wave feature. A modification to the surf wave blocks has already been installed to reduce this hazard.

Sweepers were installed on the static blocks to eliminate any gap between the pneumatic gate and the static gate. The installation occurred on May 25 in order to take advantage of low-water level conditions. Waiting could have rendered the modification impossible to accomplish until water levels receded in the fall. According to BPRD staff, the installation of the sweepers accomplished the desired effect.

Rules and operational changes taking effect upon reopening include:

  1. Prohibit the use of leashes in the park. To obtain compliance with the rule change, BPRD staff will flatten the wave for all surfers if a leash is observed.
  2. PFDs and helmets will be strongly recommended as whitewater must-haves. Helmets and PFDs worn should be properly fitted and meet appropriate standards for class III or IV whitewater. A communications campaign will educate river surfers with website information, handouts at local retailers, social media, etc.

BPRD staff also committed to research the ability to upgrade the air compressor chamber that inflates and deflates the gate bladders to expedite movement of the gates.  In addition, BPRD plans to add a webcam capable to zoom, tilt and scan to better monitor the entire whitewater park.

The tentative date for reopening the surf wave is pending completion of three items, including the installation of the sweeper that is already completed. Other reopening requirements include a meeting with Bend Fire to revisit emergency protocols and installation of signage at the whitewater park to communicate the new rules.

The board of directors also requested that staff monitor the situation with regard to leashes and adjust as necessary. The topic will be revisited at a board meeting later in the summer.

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