Untreated Water Good Enough to Paddle, Not Swim

By Pete Williams

No water worries?

Officials in Tempe, Arizona, have been weighing the cost of treating the water at Tempe Town Lake, which will be the site of an upcoming paddleboard event. That makes sense, since the lake is flat, scenic, and centrally-located for a paddleboard event.

What does this have to do with Florida? Read on.

Anyone who has competed in Ironman Arizona has swum in the lake, which apparently is notorious for high pH levels, which can cause skin rashes, eye and nose irritation. That’s why Tempe spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to treat the water before Ironman and other swimming-related activities.

According to a story in Tuesday’s Arizona Republic, Tempe has spent $3.8 million to improve the water quality since 1999. (Ironman Arizona did not debut until 2005, so presumably Ironman cynics can’t blame the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. for this one.)

The story also said officials don’t want to incur further costs to treat the water before a paddleboard event because, after all, the idea is to stay on the paddleboard and out of the water. A Tempe parks and recreation official is quoted saying that the lake does not have to meet pH swimming standards for paddleboarders since the sport is not “a bathing activity” and people are unlikely to fall in the water.

Others disagree, including Matt Lorraine, whose South Florida-based Exclusive Sports Marketing is branching out this year from triathlon into promoting a paddleboard race.

Lorraine, I’m guessing, isn’t that familiar with paddle boarding.

“You’re going to fall off. There’s no doubt about that,” Lorraine is quoted by The Republic. “It generally takes, with consistent practice, a few months before you get yourself in a pretty good position . . . (where you’re) not going to fall off anymore.”

A few months? One reason for the sport’s meteoric growth is how easy it is to get a grip on the basics. Most paddleboard beginners are stunned to find how infrequently they fall off. I was one of a dozen newbies who went out on boards on a lake in the Florida Panhandle in September. This was a group of travel writers, hardly an athletic bunch, and do you know how many of us fell in the water during an hour-long session? None.

The third time I was on a board I competed in a three-mile race in the Gulf of Mexico and didn’t fall off. That hardly made me unusual. Nobody else in the race did either.

I’ve since fallen in several times and even an elite paddler might go down on occasion during a paddleboard race featuring a technical course and rougher water. But it’s hardly the norm. Which is why Tempe officials probably are unwilling to spend more on water treatment.

Leave that for the triathletes and others actually spending time in the water.

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