Black Hills paddlers insist kayaking isn’t dangerous

Avid paddlers describe kayaking as calming, relaxing and fun, not dangerous. That’s the message members of the Black Hills Paddlers group say they hope will stay afloat as the search for missing Deerfield teen Justin Lewis continues into a seventh day.

Group members say kayaking is all about enjoying nature, wildlife and the calming water. They say the sport is relatively safe if you have the right equipment and company.

“It’s very calm to paddle solo, it’s relaxing, but it’s also a danger because you have no one to help you,” said Rick Emerson of Rapid City, who has kayaked for 25 years.

That was the case nearly a week ago, when a 15-year-old Lewis went missing. All that was found was his personal flotation device and boat.

In the kayaking community, a number of scenarios have surfaced.

“Possibly he didn’t have his personal flotation device on since they found it unfastened,’ said Nancy Smidt, President of the Black Hills Paddlers.

“If you’re in cold-water you and get hypothermic and all of a sudden your body shuts down and you can’t swim anymore,” said Emerson.

Members of the group say the teen’s disappearance is tragic. Still, they insist the water sport is relatively safe.

South Dakotans are urged to practice caution when kayaking, swimming and canoeing as summer approaches. Be sure to wear a life jacket, take a skilled partner along and let someone know your whereabouts if you’re taking part in a water activity.

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