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Paddle Smart: Staying Safe on Standley Lake

It’s a beautiful summer day. The sun is shining, not a cloud in sight — the perfect time to go paddleboarding on Standley Lake. The views are majestic with the beautiful Rocky Mountains on full display. If you’re lucky, you might even spot one of the pelicans that likes to hang out at the lake. Yes, Westminster has pelicans, who knew? If you don’t own a paddleboard, you can rent one at the park. It’s one of the most popular and accessible ways to get out on the water, with more than 2,000 paddleboard rentals at Standley Lake last season alone.

Before hitting the lake, though, you should make sure to take certain precautions. Afternoon thunderstorms throughout the summer months can have a big impact on conditions at Standley Lake, conjuring dangerous lightning, strong winds, and treacherous whitecaps.

Westminster Fire Lieutenant Shawn Caswell knows the dangers all too well. His team trains for water rescues and is always prepared to jump into action at Standley Lake, if necessary. However, you don’t need specialized training to keep yourself safe while paddleboarding. Caswell says it’s as simple as checking the weather forecast before heading out.

“Knowing what the weather is going to do and understanding how that is going to affect your day on the water will help you be prepared,” Caswell said.

Although Standley Lake is for paddleboarders of any skill level, Caswell does recommend newbies get lessons before hitting the water. “It's a large body of water with conditions that can rapidly change. Conditions can deteriorate, and you need to be able to get back to shore,” Caswell said. “It is imperative you stay within your means of ability to swim to safety and stay within sight of the shore.” Even without lessons, Caswell says beginners shouldn’t be afraid to try with the necessary precautions.

After checking the weather, Caswell says the next step is to familiarize yourself with the life jacket rules. When paddleboarding at Standley Lake, everyone using the watercraft must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD). They don’t have to wear it — it just has to be on the board, though wearing it is recommended. If a person rents a paddleboard at the park, then they must wear the PFD at all times while on the water. Anyone under the age of 16, regardless of if they rented the board, must wear a PFD.

“Nobody likes tan lines, but there are a lot of different options out there,” Caswell says. “There are some personal flotation devices that go around your waist, with a piece that will connect onto the paddleboard’s leash. That way it's more of a waistbelt.”

Caswell recommends wearing the leash that’s attached to the paddleboard. He says it's even more important on still water than it is on a river. “Imagine you’re on the lake, with your life jacket resting on board. All of a sudden, a big wind gust comes and knocks you off your paddleboard. The paddleboard is essentially a big sail, so if you’re not weighing it down to keep it in place, the wind is going to grab it and it’s going to start spinning and fly across the water away from you,” he continues painting the scene. “Because your leash isn’t attached, you’re going to have to swim after it, you’re already exhausted on a hot day, maybe you’re dehydrated. There’s no way you’re going to be able to catch up to the board when you’re already tired and you don’t have on your life jacket. So, having them both on and attached to you is very important.”

If storm clouds start rolling in, it’s best to get to shore as quickly and safely as you can. “Lay down on the board, lay down as tight as you can, make your profile as small as you can and then surf paddle your way to the shore.”

In addition to bringing a PFD when paddleboarding, you can also wear a whistle. “A whistle carries very, very well across the water, so it's easy for people to pick up on and generally is a universal sign of help out on the water,” Caswell said. “If you're struggling to get back onto the board, just get your arms up onto the board and get yourself up as high as you can and call for help.”

If a paddleboarder spots someone in trouble, Caswell has advice on how they can help. "Paddle over and hand them your PFD. Stay connected to your board, stay low on the board, and give them something to hold onto that's going to keep them up. You can then paddle them over to their board that blew away.”

Even though park rangers are out patrolling Standley Lake, they might not immediately realize someone is in danger. If you’re on the shore and see someone struggling, Caswell says you can help them. “First of all, you should call 911,” Caswell says, even if you're not 100% sure the person needs emergency services. “That 911 call will activate the rangers out on the lake and will get the rescue crews out there quickly. We'd rather have that 911 call come in and then not be needed, then have it come in and realize they should have called sooner.”

After calling 911, it’s good to keep an eye on the person in the water. “Look at them and locate something exactly opposite from where you are and where they are. Make sure you choose a stationary object, like a power pole or distinctive tree, so if they go under, rescuers will know where they were last spotted.”

Being aware and understanding the dangers of paddleboarding is the first step to keeping you safe. Overall, paddleboarding is a low-risk activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family, including four-legged members! Just remember to make sure everyone has a PFD, including your pooch.

Tips for Paddleboarding

  • Check the weather forecast
  • Wear a personal flotation device
  • Wear your board’s leash
  • Wear sunscreen and bring extra
  • Bring a water bottle
  • Bring a whistle if you have one
  • Carry your phone in a waterproof bag
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