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Velcro Reliability 7/6/2020

Gorge Report: 4th of July Weekend
Kevin Olney

Jul 6 #27080

We made a quick visit to the gorge over the holiday weekend. Things had settled down from the prior week. River flow was down around 260k cfs, air temps were mid 70s and the wind hitting 24-27 for most of the afternoons. Classic conditions.

The runs were solid and enjoyable. Hood River appeared to be in full summer swing with the event site packed and downtown streets filled. If you are into social distancing that’s one place to avoid. Stevenson, Carson and White Salmon were pretty relaxed and not too busy.

The theme of my trip was “check your gear” and “double check your gear”. On Friday afternoon I put in at Draino and paddled to the Hatchery. It was probably the best conditions of the whole weekend. About 1000 meters into the run I realized the clasp on my paddle was loose and I couldn’t tighten it enough to keep the angle and length from slipping. I could keep it pushed together and take tiny strokes so I spent the whole time trying to surf without paddling. It worked pretty well until Swell where it was just too big for me to fake it and I limped along the shore to the take out. A quick half turn of the lever screw and I was ready to go for another run. Unfortunately the wind backed off and the rides weren’t quite as sweet the next time.

Saturday I had a far more serious incident. We were doing laps at the Hatchery and had a good session in medium conditions. I was really finding my Zen and getting more and more comfortable hopping from one wave crest to the next. I was just about to head in for the day and turned to look over my shoulder to see where the rest of the group was at. I wasn’t paying attention and a wave pushed my stern around and over I went. Not a big deal except I was on the downwind side of the boat and my leg leash was wrapped around it one time. I figured I’d just duck under the boat and flip it once and be set to remount from the upwind side. Well as I made my move a wave hit me pretty good and I lost my grip on the boat. When I saw the leg end of my leash floating away from me I knew I was in trouble.

Velcro gets filled with dirt and debris and wears out over time. I think that leash is about 5 years old and, while I do clean out the Velcro periodically, I never really tested it. I check the boat connection all the time and the swivel to make sure it’s not corroded. The attachment to the body is just as important and mine failed. Of course I tried frantically to swim after the boat knowing full well it was wasted effort. I gave up pretty quick and focused on getting the attention of my paddling partners. Kim C and Egor K were (luckily) only about 30 meters away. I yelled and waved my paddle to get their attention but to no avail. I blew my whistle but it was full of water and just made a gurgling sound. By this time they had seen my boat rolling over the waves on its way to The Dalles and realized I wasn’t with it. Kim paddled to my boat and held onto it with a paddle in the water to anchor into the current. Egor paddled to me and I hung onto his stern as he drug me towards Kim and my boat. It took about 5 minutes of hard paddling to close the distance between us which was probably only 50 meters. Once reunited with by boat I hopped in without incident and paddled back to shore. I am so grateful to have received help immediately and I owe those guys big time.

It was a humbling experience. For all the things that went wrong I can think of so many ways it could have been worse. Had my friends not been right there I would have had to abandon the boat and swim to shore. Had a barge come down the river at that moment it would have been terrifying. I think about if the same thing happened in Bellingham Bay 3/4 of a mile off shore where the water is cold and everyone is usually way more spaced out. There is a high level of risk in our sport so it is imperative that we honestly assess our skills, equipment and protocols regularly. Redundancy in the safety checklist is big. Have a partner, have a plan, know the conditions and CHECK YOUR GEAR!


Reivers Dustin
Jul 6 #27084

KO, was this a leg-leash? I've heard of this, but most often where the velcro did not wrap “over center” - where the velcro had the pulling force somewhat in tension. It is better where pulling force is in shear. That is, the pull is sideways, not lifting. I guess you guys on here know this. But not some manufacturers.

But you are not the first to talk about velcro fail. I would like to see the pieces. The thing is, each component is between you and harm. If anything at all fails, now we start doing the whistles, smoke, flares, mirrors, cell phones, radios. All that stuff is like hoping to distract the bear long enough to get our ass out of his woods.

great heads up. Glad you had back-up. This is another “thing”. Surfski rescue by surfski is tricky business. Mucking around with boats and bodies in that stuff is risky as hell for the Samaritan. I just don't know if I would have the chops to get you to your boat, or even hold onto your boat in that crap. So let's say I try it and fail. Now there's twice the trouble.

Heads up: movie reference. In “Jeremiah Johnson”, there's a scene where the Robert Redford character says to the Will Greer character: “… you getting skairy in your old age?” (Reivers character says: guess I am.)


Jeff Hegedus
Jul 6 #27086

Thanks for sharing Kevin, and I'm really glad that you had good assistance. Hearing about velcro, again, I'm compelled to again share how I go from boat to pfd, via stainless steel carabiner, rather than to leg with velcro.

John Rybczyk
Jul 6 #27089

Ha! I knew, as soon as I read your post Kevin, that Jeff was going to chime in about his stainless steel carabiner leash! In fact, I said to myself, “Self, I bet that if Jeff reads this, he is going to use this opportunity to brag on his stainless steel contraption.” And I was right! Now…where is Bill C. to remind us about the evils of velcro? And Bill, I'm going to be disappointed if your post/diatribe is less than five paragraphs long.

Some few of you may recall that I had a very similar thing happen to me during the Wild Side relay down in the Gorge many years ago. Same kind of velcro leash failure after a fall. Except that I was rescued by a kite boarder. He had me grab on to the back of his life vest (there was a handle there for some reason) and he kited/dragged towards my surf ski. When we were about fifty feet from the ski, he jumped a wave and we sailed about 25 feet in the air, although it seemed like 1000 feet, with me hanging on for dear life. When we were right over the boat he screamed, “LET GO!!!” and I did, and I landed right in my boat, and I was so high on adrenaline and caffeinated GOO, I paddled off and won the race.

See you on the water,


Paul Reavley
Jul 7 #27090

I personally am firmly in the Bill C. camp on velcro

John thanks for your excellent Wildside Relay story. I think I may have missed that one in the past Wildside race reports I have read.

For anyone looking for another way to test their leash reliability, you could use the Scoggin's waterspout test:

Eric Grossman
Jul 7 #27091

Glad everything turned out OK KO!

A lot of folks have been asking me lately about my boat leash contraption. I use a $10 dog harness like rope probably rated for 2000-lb tensile strength from boat to my waist via locking carabiner attached to a narrow webbing strap I wear like a belt with a loop of parachute cord, also rated high tensile strength. Rope could be longer for better clearance coming back up to the surface after huli but the rest feels solid. The problem with this is the locking carabiner-one year Ski2Sea refs insisted as I entered my boat to clip my leash, by the time I reach MP the lock had rotated to full lock position with the steady vibrations along the way that it took a while to unlock-in front of a cheering crowd…That pissed me off enough I passed 3-5 maybe 10? people on the beach run to the bell.

Has anyone had positive or poor experience attaching leash from boat to waist? Seems the best


Reivers Dustin
Jul 8 #27096

I've done waist to stern runner line for some years now. Main motivation was dumping in 60/70 mph wind and having mid-point leash. In that scenario the boat goes sideways and makes a sail, so any leash to mid-point has incredible force on it. I was frankly amazed that my leash held. I had to pull so hard to get back to the boat it was difficult to keep my grip on the tight leash line. With stern runner almost no force on leash or boat. It still jumps downwind when you dump, but easy to sort out things without being dragged in the water by this boat that wants to fly. If it's heavy weather I like this system.

Before that I was one of the last to give up on just a paddle-to-boat leash. I loved the flexibility and simplicity this gave. I was leashed to nothing. My hands were responsible for holding on to something. Or not. Did some big wind self rescues and assists this way and some of these I needed both hands to do other things and used legs to hold the boat. Morris was king of this system. He would rodeo his way out of all kinds of stuff. Deano was same way. From all his monkey business days Dean felt confident of holding on to boat or paddle. Not sure what Dean is doing now.

Talked with Nicholas C about his system: Curly leash from PFD to hard point right behind cockpit. He showed me how he works it and it's slick. He's bombed surf with this and has mastery of it.

Summary: I'm unable to totally endorse a system. There's big faults with each one so what you pick for yourself you better be a Jedi master of. My waist leash w/ runner line can wrap on the boat, rudder and me (and it has). I've had no problem sorting things out, but some will not like screwing around if they are in the water. Waist leash does nothing for the dropped paddle. Leg or ankle leash you are sure to get at least one wrap (i.e re-enter on non-dominant side). As far as busting surf or the high wind problem … pretty sure I'm done with that. I've become purticular in my old age. I.E. : “Don't Know? Don't Go”.

If any youse guyse find the perfect system for all problems, give me a sip of whatever you are putting in your morning coffee. Its a big deal. I myself rate the leash as more important than the PFD.

velcro_reliability_7_6_2020.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/20 16:24 by preavley