Kayak Waiheke owner Ross Barnett says every paddleboarder should wear a life-jacket, plan their trips and know what equipment to use in what conditions, because accidents happen no matter how experienced you are. Photo Paul Mitchell

Paddleboarding accidents have surged around the world and experts are worried the same could happen in New Zealand without better safety awareness among water users.

The warnings from New Zealand Stand Up Paddling and Maritime New Zealand come after a recently released Coroner’s report into the death of Joanne Dening, a 35-year old swimming teacher and lifesaver who drowned when she fell off her board and her leg tether got tangled around a buoy while paddleboarding at Wenderholm Regional Park, north of Auckland, in 2019.
Stand Up Paddling safety officer Bill Dawes says Joanne’s tragic death is a reminder that what looks like a safe and relatively easy pastime can quickly become dangerous if people don’t have the right knowledge and equipment for the conditions. 

“All the team at NZSUP were shocked and horrified at the news of the fatality. Not just because it’s such an awful tragedy, but also because it brings home the reality we have a genuine problem here.”

Dawes says a lot of people have been taking up paddleboarding over the past five years, due to an influx of cheap boards becoming available at stores and online. The influx of newcomers, trying out the sport without a proper grounding in how to do it safely, or without proper supervision while learning, has led to an significant increase in accidents and rescues, he says.

Maritime New Zealand research shows more than 2.1 million Kiwis took part in some form of recreational water activity in the three months to June 2022. That 56 percent of the adult population taking part in water-activities is up from 42 percent in 2017.

Maritime New Zealand principal advisor Matt Wood says rookie paddleboarders are recommended to start with supervised lessons, and even experienced boarders should plan their outings and use equipment suitable to the conditions. • Paul Mitchell

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