Pulled Over on a Paddle Board | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Pulled Over on a Paddle Board

It's happened to this writer twice. In the interest of being a true local, here's how to avoid it

click to enlarge Pulled Over on a Paddle Board
K.M. Collins

Poaching paddle spots is part of my recreation repertoire. Typically, I search Google maps, find a blue feature remotely in the vicinity of my driving route, identify a bridge on said waterway and use it as a put-in. It's a simple equation... what could go wrong?

In playing this Russian roulette paddle game, a shocking truth has come to my attention: not all waterways are open to the public. Say what?

This was never truer than on Oswego Lake in Lake Oswego, Portland's boujiest suburb. I caught the bus with my inflatable paddleboard to the lakefront. When I arrived, I paced the east end of the lake, where a dam prevents it from spilling into the Willamette River. No obvious put-in. This might have been my first clue that passer-by paddlers weren't welcome. I sussed out a covert corner near an apartment complex with a fenced lake view. Here, I inflated the board—requiring something like 250 manual pumps—then threw the board over the fence.

I began paddling, and eventually, unbeknownst to me, gave my interloper status away. A motorized security guard caught up to me, asking how I got access to the lake. I said I entered from a "friend's" dock—a location which I had now, somehow, conveniently forgotten. He asked if I had a permit. I said I didn't know one was required. He said many lakefront homeowners had called security to report a "young lady" paddle boarding outside of the regulatory buoys (I was flattered about the young lady bit). Instead of hugging the shore, I had paddled in the deeps. Who would hug the shore? I guess someone who knew the rules. Cue the first law enforcement escort back to land.

click to enlarge Pulled Over on a Paddle Board
K.M. Collins

The second hydrologic infraction prompting law enforcement escort was on Paulina Lake—this time, for not having a life jacket. I had circumnavigated half the lake and was approaching the hot springs when a motorized boat marked "Sheriff" pulled aside me.

When I told the officer I had simply forgotten my wearable floatation device in my rig, he offered to give me a ride to my vehicle, retrieve the jacket and bring me back to this same spot. Since I was bluffing, and there was no such jacket, I played along. Back on shore, digging through my car, I eventually conceded that I must have left the phantom jacket at home and I would have to commence the paddle trip another day when I was better prepared. Boo-hoo.

We can all agree: rules suck, and they shouldn't apply to our individual paddle endeavours- right?  Wrong. Rules keep everyone safe, in particular, the 250,000+ floaters who enjoyed the Urban Deschutes River corridor between Riverbend Park and Drake Park in 2017. Here are some hot tips that will keep the marine board, the sheriff and other po-po out of your wet hair.

Licensed to float

At this time, a permit isn't required to float the Urban Deschutes River corridor, but it could be soon. Permits are required on the Lower Deschutes and many other waterways. The best thing to do is check with the land management agencies on which the waterway flows.

Are you invasive-species permitted?

Invasive species can cause a ton of harm to waterways. If you don't clean your water craft in between uses on different waterways, you could be transporting stowaway flora.

Protect the riparian zone, bro

Know where the public put-ins and take-outs are on your float route. Don't be that guy, bushwhacking in the vegetation next to the river. You could be stepping on wild flowers or hatchlings and other sacred greenery. On the Urban Deschutes River Route, public access is welcome at Riverbend Park, McKay Park and Drake Park. Public access is not available at the dock on river right just above the Bend Whitewater Park.


The Oregon State Marine Board states on its website, "...all paddlecraft (canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards, etc.) need to carry properly-fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket(s) for each person on board and the life jacket must be readily accessible. All children 12 and younger are required to wear a life jacket." Many retailers in Central Oregon sell type 3 personal floatation devices, which meets the Marine Board standards. Now through Labor Day, stop by Riverbend Park or Bend Park & Float and pick up a free life jacket rental from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe.

FUI: Floating while under the Influence

Yes, you can get fined for drinking on the river. Even if you couldn't, it isn't a good idea to bring the bottles and cans. Inevitably they end up on the river bottom. Lastly, apply leave no trace principles to your paddle trip. When outdoor recreation was more dispersed in Bend, some of these concerns weren't such big issues—but that's no longer an excuse.

Take it from a reformed paddle rule-breaker: stay in your lane. The buoys apply to everyone.

click to enlarge Pulled Over on a Paddle Board
K.M. Collins

K.M. Collins

A native Oregonian, K.M. Collins is a geologist-gone-writer. Covering everything outdoors and a spectrum of journalism, she's a jack of all whitewater sports and her favorite beat is anything river related. Don't blow her cover as a freshwater mermaid amongst humans.
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