Swimming in Central Oregon waters

Region filled with plenty of places to take a dip

Amanda Miles / The Bulletin /

Reporter’s prelude: This past winter, I had so much fun trying out and writing about Central Oregon’s popular snow sports that The Bulletin decided to bring back a similar series for this summer. Join me as I explore a number of the region’s cherished summer sports and recreational activities. This week, I try swimming.

Even though Central Oregon is considered the high desert, the region is home to its fair share of water.

“We’ve got so many ponds and lakes and rivers here in Central Oregon,” says Cindy Kettering, deputy fire marshal at the Bend Fire Department.

With plenty of lakes, rivers and hot springs, water enthusiasts are sure to find a swimming hole that suits their fancy.

You do not need a lot of gear for recreational swimming, just some comfortable swimwear and whatever water toys you like will do. And if you choose to frequent open waters rather than pools, you can swim for free.

Of course, I am assuming that if you are open-water-bound you are already a proficient swimmer. If this is not the case, you should put those plans on hold and instead take swim lessons until you reach a reasonable level of competence.

A number of aquatic centers located in Central Oregon offer swim lessons for all ages — from infants to adults — for reasonable fees.

If you are not yet a strong swimmer, it could take a number of months to build your skill. But it’s never too late to learn how to swim, and once you do, a whole region of water is open for you to explore.

And when you do venture out, remember that your safety should be paramount. A number of activities are fun to do in the water but are not necessarily safe — and, as a former lifeguard, I know what pretty much all of those activities are.

The list is too long to recite here, but resources for water safety information include the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) and local fire departments.

So have fun, but be safe and vigilant.

“Pay attention to your surroundings, because things can change,” Kettering says. “If you’re on a moving body of water ... your locations will change and so will your conditions.”

My turn

I have been swimming for as long as I can remember. Well, longer, actually, as I cannot recall my first session of swim lessons. I do know what transpired during those couple of weeks, though, as my mother has recounted them to me many times over the years.

I was what is sometimes referred to as a “crier,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: Put me in the water, and I cried. My first instructor had a rule for her students: Those who shed tears were the last ones out of the pool at the end of the lesson. So for four consecutive days, I was the last one out, and my poor mother was starting to wonder if she was inflicting long-term damage on me.

But she held her ground, even when — sometime before that final lesson of the first week — I told her I thought I was going to cry.

“I guess you’re going to be the last one out of the pool,” she said.

That conversation resulted in some sort of mental adjustment for me. I must have made up my mind that I did not want to be the last one out, because, my mother told me, I gritted my teeth and I did not have a good time. But I did not cry and was able to exit the pool in a timely fashion for the first time in my swimming career.

That day was a breakthrough. I started to learn to relax and enjoy my time in the water instead of dread it.

And I have not stopped swimming since. Years of lessons flowed into years of participating on swim teams and years of lifeguarding.

To this day, I still swim. My sport of choice is now triathlon, so I can’t avoid the water. Not that I want to. I still enjoy swimming — much more so than I did when I started at age 3, it’s safe to say.

In fact, I can think of little that is more refreshing and pleasurable than slipping into a crystal-clear pool and gliding through the water in hot weather or spending a day at the beach or lake with loved ones. When Central Oregon heated up for a few days this past week, I ventured into the Deschutes River for the first time since I moved here and had a little fun in the deliciously cool water.

And so, though my plunge into the world of water was initially discomfiting, I am grateful that my dear mom did not let me give up before I truly got started. I would have missed out on some wonderful experiences, and my life certainly would have been different in meaningful ways.

Instead, my mother’s persistence provided me with a sport and a recreational activity that I can enjoy for life.

If you go

Gear guide: Suits and accessories

When swimming in the great outdoors, you may want to think about some gear and accessories that will make your aquatic experience more enjoyable.

For men, it is pretty easy to find suitable swimwear; sometimes even a pair of casual shorts or cutoffs does the trick. But for women who want to do a lot of playing around in the water rather than just lounging on the beach, some swimsuits are better than others.

“The whole goal is that if you’re going to dive in the water, these suits will stay on,” says Stephany Brandt, owner of Sugar Sports, a Bend retail store than carries swimwear and swim accessories.

Brandt recommends looking for suits that are close-fitting with athletic cuts. Some even come with fastening devices such as “cinchers,” ties and straps that crisscross. With the right fit and features, your suit will stay where you want it to whether you are riding a paddleboard or have one of your children hanging on you.

If you are concerned about the sun (and you should be), you can buy a rash guard — a shirt made from synthetic materials that is designed to be worn in the water — to reduce your exposure with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) defense from the sun.

“Whether you’re just playing or swimming or lap swimming, it’s going to give you that protection that sunscreen will not,” Brandt says.

Rash guards come in a variety of colors and sleeve lengths and work by blocking ultraviolet radiation.

Vision is one of your most important senses in the water: You want to be able to both see and be seen.

A pair of mirrored goggles and a swim cap help in that department.

Goggles with a mirrored coating “function the same way as sunglasses do,” Brandt explains, so they provide better visibility in natural sunlight than do clear goggles, which are better suited for indoor settings.

While caps may not seem stylish, they help other water enthusiasts see you. Brandt recommends wearing caps that are white or brightly colored, as they stand out from the water. Blue and black caps are fine for pool swims, but avoid them in open-water settings.

Finally, for a little fun — rather than just function — consider adding a pair of fins to your swim gear. They are not just for serious swimmers.

“It really takes very little effort to create a lot of motion from (fins),” Brandt says. “So it’s a really good option for families, for people who just want to swim in the water but they don’t want to have so much exertion going on. They can still get the enjoyment out of it.”

If you go

When queried, Bulletin staffers were full of suggestions for “swimming hole” locations in Central Oregon. The following are some of their responses:

-Bill Healy Memorial Bridge, Deschutes River, Bend

-McKay Park, Deschutes River, Bend

-Elk Lake, off Cascade Lakes Highway east of Bend

day-use beach on south side of lake

Little Fawn Campground on south side of lake

-Cardinal Bridge, Deschutes River, Sunriver

-Scout Lake, near Suttle Lake off U.S. Highway 20 west of Sisters

-Tumalo State Park, Deschutes River, Bend

-Wickiup Reservoir, off Forest Road 42 southeast of Bend

-Lake Billy Chinook, swimming areas at The Cove Palisades State Park, Culver

-Cultus Lake, off Cascade Lakes Highway southwest of Bend

-Sparks Lake, off Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend

-Cline Falls State Park, Redmond

-Deschutes River, Tumalo, on Wharton Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets

Quick tips: The essentials

1. Know where you are swimming.

“The biggest problem ... is that people need to know the water that they’re going into,” says Cindy Kettering, deputy fire marshal for the Bend Fire Department.

Before you go out and play, some key details to obtain, Kettering suggests, include where the water — such as a river — goes and its depth and swiftness.

Additionally, Kettering says, swimmers can get into trouble when they ignore warning signs and remain unaware of details such as water temperature. Many Central Oregon waters are fed by snowmelt, Kettering observes, so even though the air temperature may be hot, the waters themselves can be cold enough to overwhelm even strong swimmers.

To learn about water conditions, Kettering suggests contacting local tour companies — particularly rafting companies.

2. Special care needs to be taken in watching children. Supervision should be constant, Kettering emphasizes.

“A minute can be too long,” she says.

Drowning situations happen quickly and quietly. According to a fire department press release, a child can be submerged even in a bathtub in just a few seconds, loss of consciousness can occur in two minutes, and death or permanent brain damage can occur within four to six minutes.

So pay attention and do not assume, Kettering says, that a buoyant toy will provide a bailout. Even wearing a life jacket is not a guarantee against drowning.

“Life jackets are not a substitute for adult supervision,” Kettering insists.

• Bill Healy Memorial Bridge, Deschutes River, Bend

• McKay Park, Deschutes River, Bend

• Elk Lake, off Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend, day-use beach on south side of lake, Little Fawn Campground on south side of lake

• Cardinal Landing Bridge, Deschutes River, Sunriver

• Scout Lake, near Suttle Lake off U.S. Highway 20 west of Sisters

• Tumalo State Park, Deschutes River, Bend

• Wickiup Reservoir, off U.S. Forest Service Road 42 southwest of Bend

• Lake Billy Chinook, swimming areas at The Cove Palisades State Park, Culver

• Cultus Lake, off Cascade Lakes Highway southwest of Bend

• Sparks Lake, off Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend

• Cline Falls State Park, Redmond

• Deschutes River, Tumalo, on Wharton Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets

When queried, Bulletin staffers were full of suggestions for “swimming hole” locations in Central Oregon. The following are some of their responses:

When swimming in the great outdoors, you may want to think about some gear and accessories that will make your aquatic experience more enjoyable.

For men, it is pretty easy to find suitable swimwear; sometimes even a pair of casual shorts or cutoffs does the trick. But for women who want to do a lot of playing around in the water rather than just lounging on the beach, some swimsuits are better than others.

“The whole goal is that if you’re going to dive in the water, these suits will stay on,” says Stephany Brandt, owner of Sugar Sports, a Bend retail store than carries swimwear and swim accessories.

Brandt recommends looking for suits that are close-fitting with athletic cuts. Some even come with fastening devices such as “cinchers,” ties and straps that crisscross. With the right fit and features, your suit will stay where you want it to whether you are riding a paddleboard or have one of your children hanging on you.

If you are concerned about the sun (and you should be), you can buy a rash guard — a shirt made from synthetic materials that is designed to be worn in the water — to reduce your exposure with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) defense from the sun.

“Whether you’re just playing or swimming or lap swimming, it’s going to give you that protection that sunscreen will not,” Brandt says.

Rash guards come in a variety of colors and sleeve lengths and work by blocking ultraviolet radiation.

Vision is one of your most important senses in the water: You want to be able to both see and be seen.

A pair of mirrored goggles and a swim cap help in that department.

Goggles with a mirrored coating “function the same way as sunglasses do,” Brandt explains, so they provide better visibility in natural sunlight than do clear goggles, which are better suited for indoor settings.

And, while caps may not seem stylish, they help other water enthusiasts see you. Brandt recommends wearing caps that are white or brightly colored, as they stand out from the water. Blue and black caps are fine for pool swims, but avoid them in open-water settings.

Finally, for a little fun — rather than just function — consider adding a pair of fins to your swim gear. They are not just for serious swimmers.

“It really takes very little effort to create a lot of motion from (fins),” Brandt says. “So it’s a really good option for families, for people who just want to swim in the water but they don’t want to have so much exertion going on. They can still get the enjoyment out of it.”

— Amanda Miles

Swimming quick tips: The essentials

1. Know where you are swimming.

“The biggest problem ... is that people need to know the water that they’re going into,” says Cindy Kettering, deputy fire marshal for the Bend Fire Department.

Before you go out and play, some key details to obtain, Kettering suggests, include where the water — such as a river — goes and its depth and swiftness.

Additionally, Kettering says, swimmers can get into trouble when they ignore warning signs and remain unaware of details such as water temperature. Many Central Oregon waters are fed by snowmelt, Kettering observes, so even though the air temperature may be hot, the waters themselves can be cold enough to overwhelm even strong swimmers.

To learn about water conditions, Kettering suggests contacting local tour companies — particularly rafting companies.

2. Special care needs to be taken in watching children. Supervision should be constant, Kettering emphasizes.

“A minute can be too long,” she says.

Drowning situations happen quickly and quietly. According to a fire department press release, a child can be submerged even in a bathtub in just a few seconds, loss of consciousness can occur in two minutes, and death or permanent brain damage can occur within four to six minutes.

So pay attention and do not assume, Kettering says, that a buoyant toy will provide a bailout. Even wearing a life jacket is not a guarantee against drowning.

“Life jackets are not a substitute for adult supervision,” Kettering insists.

— Amanda Miles