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BPRD Makes Adjustments to Whitewater Park, Plans to Reopen

BEND, OR -- The Bend Park and Recreation District Board has announced plans to reopen the Whitewater Park next week. They discussed the recent accident that led to the death of a 17-year-old in late April and say changes have been made in an effort to prevent future incidents. Following Tuesday night's meeting, the board issued the following statement:

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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