Safety experts worried at rise of paddleboarding incidents

18 August 2022

Paddleboarding accidents have surged overseas and experts are worried the same could happen in New Zealand if safety concerns are not addressed.

The warning comes after last week’s Coroner’s Report into the death of a paddleboarder at the Wenderholm Regional Park, north of Auckland, in 2019.

The novice paddleboarder, a fulltime swimming teacher and lifesaver, died after her leg rope became entangled around a buoy when she fell from her board.

Bill Dawes, Safety Officer at New Zealand Stand Up Paddling (NZSUP), says the death is a tragic reminder that what looks like a safe and relatively easy pastime can quickly become dangerous if people don’t have the right knowledge and equipment for the conditions.

“All the team at NZSUP were shocked and horrified at the news of the fatality. 

“Not just because it's such an awful tragedy, but also because it brings home the reality that we have a genuine problem here,” he says.

That problem has grown on the surge of interest in the sport.

The latest Maritime NZ/Ipsos research shows more than 2.1 million Kiwis undertook some form of recreational boating in the three months to June 2022.

That 56% of the population over the age of 18 engaging in water activities is up from 50% at the same point last year, and 42% in 2017.

And paddleboarding has become one of the most popular activities, behind kayaks and powerboats.

“The market has changed dramatically over the last 5-6 years due to an influx of cheap boards available from high street stores and online,” says Mr Dawes.

“In the northern hemisphere, participation numbers have gone through the roof over the last few summers, and it is entirely probable we're going to see the same here this summer.”

That has also led to an increase in incidents and rescues.

In New Zealand, as well as the death of the woman near Auckland, a teenager died in Whangamata Harbour in 2015 when she was dragged under a boat by the current and her leg rope became entangled in the boat’s keel.

NZSUP and Maritime NZ support the Coroner’s findings following the latest  death in New Zealand.

In the report the Coroner made a number of recommendations including:

  • the use of appropriate equipment for the conditions, such as quick-release waist leashes in moving water
  • novice paddleboarders should start in sheltered waters and familiarise themselves with hazards before setting out; and
  • the wearing of personal floatation devices, where appropriate.

But education is the key, says Mr Dawes and Matt Wood, Maritime NZ’s Principal Advisor, Recreational Boating.

“Don't assume that, because you're experienced in other water activities, you'll automatically know what's best for SUP,” says Mr Dawes.

“If you are starting out as a newcomer to the sport we recommend getting a lesson if at all possible.”

Planning is also essential.

“It's only when you understand what the risks are and what they look like, that you can counter them.  The first part of SUP safety is gaining this knowledge,” he says.

Mr Wood says Maritime NZ wants Kiwis to enjoy the great activities available in the country’s rivers, lakes and seas.

“But this young lady’s death is a sad reminder that, no matter how safe an activity might appear, people need to plan, be prepared and respect the level of their experience.”

He urges those keen to know more to check the Safer Boating NZ and NZSUP websites for safety information, helpful guides and free courses.

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