Chad Andrew shimmied into his skirt with only a little bit of effort Saturday.

To be fair, the skirt was not a piece of women's clothing. Instead, it was a "spray skirt" made to improve the safety of whitewater kayaking by fitting tightly over the top of the vessel to keep it from flooding when flipped.

The skirt fit snugly over Andrew's dry pants and paddle jacket, so with a final check of his personal flotation device, or PFD, Andrew secured his helmet and slipped into Canyon Lake all safe and sound.

Andrew, who was born and raised in Rapid City, is a kayaking instructor. He helped the Black Hills Paddlers on Saturday at Canyon Lake instill an important message in enthusiasts of a booming sport in the Black Hills: "Engage your brain before engaging the water."

"We just want to make sure we don't have any more fatalities in the Black Hills," Black Hills Paddlers Vice President Justin Herreman said.

Herreman said even the most experienced canoeists and kayakers can fall victim to drowning, and the Hills have seen at least five fatalities in the past five years. The latest was 15-year-old Justin Lewis of Hill City, who drowned at Deerfield Lake last Memorial Day.

The group discussed gear essentials, etiquette and stream safety before Andrew and Benjamin Ten Eyck of Keystone displayed vital techniques on getting your head above water when your kayak takes a spill. Their mission is simple: safety, fellowship and fun.

Herreman said people must know their boat well and have a properly fitted paddle. Other essentials for the water include a personal flotation device that fits snugly; a helmet, especially for kayaking in moving water; and a spray skirt to keep water from flooding into your kayak.

Unspoken essentials include proper footwear and gloves. He said cotton clothes are incredibly dangerous because they draw heat from your body and don't wick moisture, so boaters should use synthetic materials such as neoprene.

A flotation device or dry bag should be stored in the stern of the boat with a dry set of clothing. And no boater should take to the water without the proper rescue gear, such as rescue rope throw bags, a knife, tow lines or a rescue PFD.

Herreman also urged people to never float alone. They should always tell someone when and where they are going, and when and where they will return.

Contact John Lee McLaughlin at 394-8421 or john.mclaughlin@rapidcityjournal.com

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