Stand Up Paddle Board Safety Progress: A Surf Expo Update

It’s been three weeks since Andres Pombo went missing in the Gorge. And while it may seem like things are quiet, there is actually quite a lot going on behind the scenes on two fronts. This is a quick update on what I’ve heard here at Surf Expo in Orlando, FL. There will be more updates:


On the family and friend side, there is a huge effort to set up something in memory of Andres that will serve the paddlers and the sport he loved. While I can’t comment on specifics, I can say they are in the planning stages and this is a long process. However, their intentions and goals are really great.

2015-Fall-Surf-Expo-paddle-board119I have received messages about the lack of activity on the industry side. There has been some backlash on the industry that they haven’t done enough, quickly enough. I can assure you that this isn’t the reality. There are ongoing conversations with manufacturers, race directors, race associations (WPA), pro paddlers, instructors and shops.

It’s a good time to take a step back and remember that the vast majority of the people who work in this industry are like the rest of us. They just happen to work in the SUP industry. They aren’t getting rich in McMansions, laughing at the commoners, counting their bills. These are hard-working people who are trying to build something in a great, new sport. And most importantly, they are actively addressing the safety issues.

WPA LogoLet’s start with Byron Kurt with the World Paddle Association (WPA) who updated me on where they are at with new safety recommendations. The WPA has been at the forefront of race safety since day one. They can perhaps affect more people faster than any other group. The WPA handbook has been the bible for race directors and while the drafting section has perhaps had the most attention, the safety section set the rules for the vast majority of races. Byron informed me that their goal is to create a long-term safety solution that addresses the safety and well being of everyone who participates in paddle board events and to avoid making a short-term emotional reaction. There are so many different types of races, in so many different types of conditions. There is a lot to consider and a number of very experienced safety and race experts who need to sit down and talk, make recommendations, and set some guidelines/rules. I am confident they will have some useful solutions. he says there are at least two very good options and that we’ll all know more on where they net out in the coming months.

From the manufacturing side, the individuals are all in favor of helping paddlers be safer on the water. What form that takes from their perspective is unknown. There is a Stand Up Paddle Industry Association (SUPIA) summit in a few weeks. I would think this issue is atop their list. If it’s not, it should be. Most if not all of the board members will be at the summit to discuss changes from the manufacturers, shops and industry professionals POV. Some of the things we should consider when watching the manufacturers reaction is the assumed liability a company creates when shipping pfds or leashes, safety recommendations with their board. I’m not a lawyer and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, nor did I play a lawyer on TV, so I don’t know the implications.

From the Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association (SUPAA) perspective, they have been advocating safety in races as part of their central mission. At the first SUPPA meeting in the fall of 2013, twenty-something of the worlds top men and women voluntarily voted to make leashes mandatory for all SUPAA distance events. This included basically anything that was not a closed-in technical race. Their organization has published explicit rules and education for event safety that include emergency response plans, competitor extraction points, safety vessel requirements, leash requirements and more. “This unfortunate incident has brought the whole SUP safety discussion to the forefront and it would be a shame for us to not try to make real changes while the topic is hot.” —Chase Kosterlitz “We unanimously voted to make leashes required in all distance events or any race that did not take place within a 1.5 square km area in front of the start line. We are reconsidering this rule for 2016 to include all races regardless of the format.” According to rule 12.06 in the SUPPA rule book, “All competitors in a SUPAA distance event must wear a leash regardless of local marine laws.” What I take from this is the pros are open to whatever maintains the highest level of safety and competition.

At the first SUPPA meeting in the fall of 2013, twenty-something of the worlds top men and women voluntarily voted to make leashes mandatory for all SUPAA distance events. This included basically anything that was not a closed-in technical race.

So there you have it. The family and friends are moving toward a meaningful memorial and fund for Andres. The Manufacturers, Paddlers, Shops, Instructors, and Race Directors are all discussing changes for the end of the 2015 that they can implement worldwide for the 2016 race season. Things are moving. Very experienced and invested water people are making a legitimate effort to create a safer sport. Have patience. Take personal responsibility for your safety and the safety of those around you—wear a pfd and use a leash. Remember, we are all ambassadors of this sport. Instill safe practices in people you take paddling.

And give to the Andres Pombo fund here.

The water connects us,

John Beausang
Publisher, The Distressed Mullet