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Assessing the Risks

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Austin’s Lady Bird Lake: May 10, 2014

I was saddened to hear about the drowning of Karl Savio Pimenta-Pereira, a 28-year-old paddleboarder who died while paddling on Lady Bird Lake this weekend. Of course, I’m sad when anyone dies tragically, particularly when it is connected to SUP. But this hit close to home, not because I knew him, but because I was paddling on that same lake both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

My friend, Michelle, and I went to Austin, Texas as part of my quest to paddle in all 50 states. Earlier I described our paddle on Saturday as “epic.” We paddled six miles, passing hundreds, if not thousands, of other people on the water: paddlers, kayakers, rowers, swimmers, dog-owners, bat-watchers, even some topless paddlers. It was hot, but not oppressively so. There was almost no current, and some wind, but, again, not enough to slow us down. We were wearing Road ID and had bottles of water with us. We had great high-quality gear from Austin Paddle Sports, including leashes on our race boards and Astral PFDs.

We’re experienced paddlers; we like to think that we’re good at assessing risk. We know when to not paddle, when to choose a different location, and when to use different gear. But I have to be honest, Saturday was not a day I was worried about the conditions. I was worried about which Austin taco truck we should visit first after we finished.

So, Karl’s death has been a sobering reminder that there are risks even on flat water on a calm day. It is a reminder that someone can drown quickly; even with other people around, he or she might not be heard.

We won’t stop paddling because of the risk, but we will continue to teach our customers—students and renters—about best practices: wearing PFDs, even if you know how to swim; using a leash when there is no risk of it being caught on strainers; knowing your own abilities and the conditions; respecting the elements. We hope you’ll take this advice seriously, in a way that it enhances your paddling experience, and not hampers it.

Rest in peace, Karl.

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