Social distancing and paddling — it’s possible, and it’s fun

There’s nothing like a peaceful afternoon of paddling to push a pandemic to the back of your mind.

“Just being out in nature generates such positive feelings,” said Angie Sheldon, Five Rivers MetroParks outdoor recreation coordinator. “Being on the water adds a calming effect.”

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Sheldon is not alone in her appreciation of paddling as, according to the 2019 Special Report in Paddlesports & Safety by the Outdoor Foundation, 22.9 million Americans took to rivers, streams, lakes and oceans to participate in at least one paddling activity in 2018. And paddlesports are tailor-made for the times, as being a kayak’s length apart offers plenty of social distancing space. That doesn’t mean, however, to go paddling alone.

“It’s always best to go with a friend or family member for safety reasons,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon suggests driving separately, not sharing equipment and not passing gear back and forth to reduce contact between paddlers.

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While the waterways are open, it’s definitely not business-as-usual for local paddlers.

“I kayak with friends on lakes and whitewater rivers – we keep our distance,” said George Davis, a member of the Ohio Paddlers. “Under normal conditions, we would have already been on multiple out-of-state whitewater trips to Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina. We’re waiting for controls to be loosened to allow those to be done in compliance with the rules of engagement.”

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While post-paddle social events are on hold, activities like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding can still be done safely and in accordance with state guidelines.

“You’re outside, so it’s easy to maintain social distancing,” Sheldon said.

For newcomers to paddlesports, the American Canoe Association ( has educational videos and links to online courses including the Official Paddlesports Safety Course Online. In-person classes and opportunities to try the sports are on hold, but local outfitters like Whitewater Warehouse and Great Miami Outfitters are offering curbside pick-up and are available by phone or email for customer questions.

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There are a wide variety of options, from calm flat-water lakes to adrenaline-inducing whitewater features, in the Miami Valley.

“We are really fortunate in the Dayton region to have a lot of waterways,” Sheldon said.

She suggests flat water — like the Eastwood MetroPark Blue Lake — for beginners and families to enable paddlers to get comfortable on the water and practice basic strokes. The MetroParks’ website ( offers a variety of resources for paddlers including locations, programs and water trail maps.

While warm summer days will be here before we know it, wetsuits are advisable now. And lifejackets are recommended for paddlers of all ages and experience levels.

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Paddling resources

American Canoe Association

Five Rivers MetroParks

Great Miami Outfitters

Miami Conservancy District

ODNR Division of State Parks and Watercraft

White Water Warehouse or call (937-222-7020)

Paddler’s safety checklist

• Be a swimmer

• File a float plan

• Wear a lifejacket

• Know the weather forecast

• Know the water venue

• Wear appropriate clothing, a hat or helmet and proper footwear

Bring along:

• Compass, chart or map

• First-aid kit

• GPS locator

• Whistle

• Rescue gear

• Bilge pump

• Sun protection

• Dry bag with extra clothing

SOURCE: American Canoe Association

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