Largest SUP Accident in the World? 4 Dead in Wales


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Perhaps the biggest SUP accident in the world unfolded in Wales on Oct. 30 when four standup paddleboarders died on the flooded Cleddau River in Haverfordwest.

According to local reports, a group of nine people from different areas across South Wales were participating in an annual tour, spending the weekend together exploring the river. Part of an organized outing, the group was reportedly part of the South Wales Paddle Boarders and Salty Dog Co. Reports say the group had been in the water only minutes when they were hit by a deluge of rushing water as they paddled near a weir on the swollen river. A riverside weir/lowhead dam contributed to the accident.

Rescue Attempt Results in Death of Third Victim

Dyfed-Powys Police announced that two women and a man died at the scene in the accident, with a fourth victim, Andrea Powell, 41, dying later in the hospital. One of the victims, former soldier and ardent supper Paul O’Dwyer, 42, died while trying to rescue the other two victims — Morgan Rogers, 24, and Nicola Wheatley, 40 — during the tragedy. The five other paddlers escaped unhurt from the incident.

Whitewater safety experts stress the dangers of lowhead dams at all times when paddling, as the tragedy illustrates.

“This is not the first multiple fatality at a low head dams,” says Charlie Walbridge, longtime American Whitewater Accident Database Manager. “Water can be deceptively fast, especially at flood. Stopping and portaging above unrunnable drops becomes very difficult. Whole groups can blunder into the hydraulic. I suspect that they didn’t realize how fast-moving the water was until they got on it, and were not prepared to avoid the dam.”

SUP accident
SUP accident victim Paul O’Dwyer, 42, died while trying to rescue the other two victims…

A rescue operation was launched after police received reports of ‘people in distress’ in the water, including 30 firefighters and swiftwater rescue technicians.

The accident occurred amidst a heavy rainstorm, with 70mph winds and heavy rainfall continuing throughout the weekend due to a “deep Atlantic low pressure system” that arrived from the west.

A team of inspectors from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is continuing to investigate the accident. Other reports said a woman was arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter, and later released under investigation.

Read more HERE



  1. This is what happens when people do not understand their environment. The guide should have known there would be issues after the weather conditions. This happens with boaters all the time.

  2. CALL TO ACTION (by David Riordon, CRSA)

    The deaths of the 4 UK paddle boarders reminds me so much of the Loveland Pass, Colorado avalanche deaths of 5 split boarders in 2013. Shock and disbelief and very sad stories about the lost victims; but then, silence by the community, industry, and experts. Nothing to be learned from the incident for fear of any discussion of what happened would be taken as some sort of disrespect to the victims, families, friends, community, and oddly enough seen as an attack and risk to the industry and activity.

    Fortunately soon after the Loveland Pass avalanche deaths, one expert dared to speak up and provide analysis of the causes of the deaths that could be used as teaching points to avoid future similar accidents. That expert in backcountry skiing was Lou Dawson, and as I recall he got some intense blow back for doing it but Lou Dawson did so for the future of backcountry recreation and to save lives.

    I’m no expert in whitewater recreation. I am a Johny-come-lately to whitewater. I’m just a punk ocean surfer who now surfs river waves, and poorly to add to that. But I have been around a lot of new extreme sports as they have come on to the scene and matured. I’m no social media influencer and have no right to speak definitively about how to recreate safely in the rivers. Though I can speak out, and will keep doing so despite those advise me otherwise (many who are my friends as well as those who really don’t care for my input).

    Here Is My Call To Action: The time is now to have real discussions and debate to challenge the status quo over river safety and decision making, especially when it comes to the new found interests in our rivers by paddle boarders and, more close to my interests, river surfers.

    I am speaking out about; the human factor of incidents and the pitfalls of heuristic decision making; the unwillingness to challenge the norms of “it should be this way” without periodically evaluating the way it is; the unwillingness to try to make gear better; and the unwillingness to admit the gear just might not work as intended for river safety.

    The emotional stages of grief are inevitable, but like Lou Dawson did weeks if not days after the Loveland Pass avalanche deaths, there needs to be open and honest yet respectful discussions about high profile and not so high profile deaths in our rivers.

    It has been over two years since Michael James died in Buena Vista, Colorado while river surfing despite being fully “kitted-out” with a pfd, quick release leash, helmet, wetsuit, and a proper high liter buoyant river surfboard; but, there has been absolutely no honest discussion and learning from his death. I blame us all, the river surfing community, the river surfing/SUP manufacturers, and the river safety experts for not evaluating and learning from Michael James’ passing, a thing called “flush drowning” that is completely ignored by the river surfing and paddle board community.

    Recently there was the death of Nicholas Zawadzki, a well known and respected down river paddle boarder who died running a stretch of a river in Idaho he had run 100’s of times before. The SUP community is still working its way through the seven stages of grief, the first being “shock and denial”.

    Nicholas Zawadzki’s death has been described as a “freak accident”. Honestly, all deaths are “freak accidents” to the family and friends but in reality, death is a function of life. And for Nicholas Zawadski it was no freak accident, he knew the risks of a paddle boarder attempting to clean any rapid. A risk tolerance that he had set for himself and was willing to push the limits even if it meant death. Much respects go to people like Nicholas Zawadski who are trail blazers and dare to go for it and for all to aspire to be.

    But the SUP community, the river enthusiasts, and the public at large needs learn from what happened to Nicholas Zawadski. Not to stop from running rivers but to do it knowing what the hazard was and how to avoid the hazard or at least mitigate the hazard with new learned skill sets. To start, someone needs to correct the American Whitewater accident database on his cause of death as “flush downing” when it was actually a full body pin at the spot he was last seen on his paddle board.

    As, the SUP community deals with the deaths of the four UK paddle boarders and the arrest of the organizer of the trip, the moment can not be lost on how to learn from the accident; for example, expanding eduction about low head dams, discussing trip planning and acknowledge all the factors impacting decision making (flow rates, river terrain/hazards, weather, & human factors), etc.

    I am challenging the river community for an expert or experts to step forward and “be the Lou Dawson” as an advocate to voice opinions on the deaths of the 4 paddle boarders in the UK. I am challenging the river surfing community to openly discus “flush drowning” and how to improve the safety of the river surfing beyond pointing blame. I also challenge the river surfing community and manufacturers to discuss the failings of river surfing equipment from quick release leashes to pfd’s that might work for SUPs but are not effective in river surfing. Lastly, to the paddle board community; don’t let the grieving process blind you, and instead let the accidents of the UK and Idaho be moments of open discussion of self-reflection of how to be safer and then turn that into a teaching moments for us all.

    David Riordon, president
    Colorado River Surfing Association


    • There was much discussion of the mistakes on the Loveland pass incident. The main cause with the delay of the analysis of mistakes was it was a CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) sponsored event. I was on the pass that day. My friend helped recover the bodies only to find out one of the men was one of our friends/ coworker. It was his first day in the backcountry. He thought he was safe under the arms of a so called “Expert”. When in fact all the training in the world will teach you all the training in the world does not guarantee safety. That incident was more human error than anything, but you have to know the risk you are taking when you step out in the extremes. Unfortunately for my Friend Chris he had not had the opportunity to be scared by avalanche classes prior to that day and was unfamiliar with the areas history of instability. If he had he would have realized it was a bad traverse line. I think if you want to participate in extreme sports you need to prepare yourself by education first then decide if you are willing to take the risk. You can’t put the blame on others. It is ultimately your responsibility.

  3. Appreciate that call to action, David. Being a whitewater SUP’er and seeing these accidents, it’s mostly been shock and what went wrong. We talk about it then sweep it out of memory. Ascertaining what and why are critical to prevent reoccurrences. The forum to educate others needs to be more prevalent.

  4. I think the UK has a history of learning from these type of incidents, the Lyme Bay Disaster back in 1993 certainly tightened up Sea paddling safety. It accelerated governmental discussions to end self-regulation of outdoor education centres. The Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) Act 1995 was introduced along with an independent licensing authority, the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) being formed.

    As a G5 WW kayaker and BCU WW coach/leader I had been watching the rainfall as we had a novices’ trip the same Sunday, we had a months rainfall in 24hrs, the rivers were out of their banks all over SW England and where this happened in Wales is probably 100 miles in a straight line. So, whilst I wasn’t checking their rain/river levels I’d guess the conditions weren’t ideal for anyone but experts.
    I watched the TV coverage as it happened, spotted the weir (lowhead dam) it is straight, flat and boxed in at either end nothing designed to break up a retentive flow. The river didn’t look too fast, I would have been happy locked into a kayak but on a paddle board less so, and certainly not messing around above the weir on a SUP.

  5. No official updates or wide open discussions (besides comments in stories like this) heading into the 6th month since this horrendous SUP accident?!? Just the mention on an arrest and no other update. I’m not in the UK so I can not and will not opine on the legal actions… However, I find it more concerning that this accident is just fading away and not used for thorough insight on how to avoid other river accidents…. Maybe it is human nature to not address hard to speak about things even when it means those things will happen again.

    Yesterday the river surfing community lost a 17 year old river surfer due to some sort of hold down/entrapment at the Bend, OR river wave. Condolences go out to the family, friends, river surfers who where there and made the valiant efforts for the rescue, and to all impacted… I hope an official report of this incident is provided in a timely fashion so we can learn from it and speak openly and honestly to hopefully avoid future accidents like it. DR


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