SUP and Lightning, No Thanks

Ditching my journey for safety
Ditching my journey for safety

This morning I set out from Sellwood and headed upstream with the intention of upwinding my way to George Rogers Park. The round trip is nearly 9.5 miles, it’s a scenic stretch of river but with a couple narrow sections that speed the current up a bit. It’s a great workout too, especially when the south winds are blowing and you expend far more than 50% of your energy on the first half of the paddle just maintaining a decent pace. I knew rain was on the way but when I left it was a mildly cloudy sky with sun peaking through enough to warm the air. I was a little over 3 miles in when I could spot George Rogers Park in the final stretch of the river. What I saw behind it though was a little more concerning. Black clouds with the distinct, familiar vertical blur indicating a sheet of rain was not far off. Still, being wet on the river is kind of standard. What was not standard were the sudden flashes of light followed several seconds later by thunderous booms. I mentally timed the distance to lightning at 7 miles and realized by George Rogers trip just got cut short by a couple miles. I did an instant 180 and dug into that water like I was in the final sprint at a race. Not three minutes later the flash and boom was 5 seconds, followed by another flash and boom at 2 seconds. I hauled ass to the nearest dock, still a couple minutes away, bent over to grab my board when I heard a crack overhead and a thundering boom not even a second behind. And then the heavens opened up with a deluge of water. I left my board on the dock and quickly ducked beneath the wing of a sea plane. I honestly don’t know if that was a smart move or not, there just wasn’t anything else to duck under. If the plane wasn’t the highest point around, I was. I wish I had taken more shots while the storm blew past but I was on the phone with a very concerned wife asking how she can come get me. I was nowhere near an accessible road though so we both had to patiently wait it out and hope for the best. About 10 minutes later the first front had passed and the sun attempted to once again assure me life was good. I put in and paddled with the effort of a professional race in it’s final minutes and managed to average 5.7mph for the last two miles, not bad!

If you’re ever stuck in a similar situation, get out of the water immediately! Stay low and stay away from trees and other tall metal structures (like planes!). I guarantee while I was on the river today I was 6′ higher than any other object around, which is not a good place with lightning in the vicinity. I was in a bad place today as the storm hit when I was nowhere near a safe area to quickly exit, which has taught me to check and recheck weather forecasts before I commit to a multi-hour paddle.

About the author

A lifelong surfer and now a regular SUP'r, Brett has lived in Portland, Oregon for 16 years. With a lifetime of shoulder wear from paddling, SUP was a logical transition to keep him on the water. Now he SUP surfs, downwinds, races, and recreationally paddles with friends and family as much as life will allow.