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Surf's Back Up 

Bend Whitewater Park's surf wave will be back online with new rules after the tragic death of a 17-year-old surfer

Bend Park and Recreation District plans to reactivate the surf wave at the Bend Whitewater Park on June 18, about six weeks after 17-year-old Ben Murphy became trapped underwater while surfing the wave. That event prompted its closure and an investigation into what caused the incident.

click to enlarge JACK HARVEL
  • Jack Harvel

The investigation into the incident suggests Murphy's foot got stuck in a 2-inch space between the pneumatic gate that shapes the surf wave and a stationary gate. Water levels on April 30 were low, which increased the risk of a surfer touching the bottom of the river or gate system, the investigation concluded. It also noted Murphy's surf leash, a cord that connects the surfboard to a surfer's leg, was marked by black rubber that likely came from the rubber framing around the gate.

BPRD installed "sweepers" on the static block to close the gap between the movable pneumatic gate and stationary gates. Going forward, it prohibits the use of surf leashes at the park and will encourage the use of helmets and personal flotation devices. Several surfers spoke out against the proposed leash ban at BPRD's board meeting on June 7, arguing it puts people floating downstream at risk of getting hit by loose boards.

The park district said it also plans to add a camera capable of zooming to better monitor the park and respond to emergencies and research upgrades that could alter waterflow more effectively.

Murphy is the only person to die at the whitewater park since it opened in 2015, but it's not the first time it's had to shut down the park for maintenance. Shortly after opening, the gates had to be repaired, and in 2016 the tubing channel was closed after people reported injuries after flipping their tube.

BPRD said it wasn't aware that people had gotten stuck before the incident but have heard anecdotal reports of surfers getting caught since. The park's reopening depends on the installaton of signage communicating new rules and a review of emergency protocol by Bend Fire. The board of directors will revisit other potential rule changes this summer after monitoring the park's new leash policy.

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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