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May-21-2009 23:32printcomments

River Rats Rejoice - This Weekend is the Whitewater Season Kick-Off

Boaters are urged to be honest with themselves and others about their skill level.

Whitewater rafting in Oregon

(BEND, Ore.) - Memorial Day Weekend is the kick-off of the river recreation season in Oregon. Rivers are running high and fast, which is a lure for whitewater lovers, but it's also the time of year when river accidents peak.

Kevin Lewis was a long-time board member for American Whitewater, who has more than 40 years of experience running rivers around the country.

He says, as Oregonians hit the water this year with kayaks, canoes, rafts and boats, they should remember that rivers change from year-to-year. New logs create underwater snags and even big rocks may have moved.

"You see a river in a two-dimensional view, but a river is three dimensional. There are obstacles that are hidden from sight nobody even knows exist."

Even when the outdoor temperatures increase, Lewis warns, Oregon rivers are still cold. Cold water drains your strength and robs you of the ability to make sound decisions on matters affecting your survival.

"You wear a wetsuit. You wear a drysuit. You may be a little overheated at the end of the day because you didn't take that swim, but if you would have gone in the water, you would have increased your odds considerably."

Also, Lewis urges boaters to be honest with themselves and others about their skill level.

High-running water is not the time to push skill levels, he says. A properly fitting helmet and life vest are essential even for experts, according to Lewis, as well as basic safety and rescue gear.

More safety tips are available at

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.