Surfer Drowns at Bend's Whitewater Park | Local News | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Surfer Drowns at Bend's Whitewater Park

Fellow surfers worked for six minutes to dislodge Ben Murphy from the artificial gates controlling water flow to a surf wave



Ben Murphy, a 17-year-old from Bend, passed away on May 1 after being trapped underwater for over six minutes at the Bend Whitewater Park the day before. Murphy was surfing the standing wave at the Whitewater Park when he fell and got stuck in a gate that operates the waves shortly after noon.

More flowers are left in honor of Ben Murphy on a rock where surfers enter the water. - CREDIT JACK HARVEL
  • Credit Jack Harvel
  • More flowers are left in honor of Ben Murphy on a rock where surfers enter the water.

Other surfers jumped in trying to help, and after many attempts were able to dislodge Murphy. He was pulled ashore upstream and given CPR by paramedics for 30 minutes before being transferred to St. Charles Medical Center.

"We were given 24 hours with our son after he had been pronounced dead. This incredible gift from God allowed us time to let Ben know just how much we loved him and how proud we were of the man that he had become," Murphy's father, Patrick Murphy, wrote in a statement released by Keith Kirkpatrick, a pastor at Journey Church where the family worshipped.

Doctors worked to resuscitate Murphy with defibrillators, but he didn't respond. Patrick Murphy said an hour had passed when doctors approached him to let him and his wife know that their son passed away, but afterwards Murphy showed a sign of improvement.

"His finger twitched and his heart began to beat faintly. We continued to encourage him and the doctors started working on him again. His condition improved and they moved him to the ICU," Patrick Murphy wrote.

Murphy's vitals improved over the next eight hours, and he was given oxygen, medication and sedatives. The next morning, however, he'd sustained too much damage to save.

"This morning many of his organs showed severe damage from the trauma he experienced. The St. Charles staff went above and beyond in their efforts to save him, but unfortunately, he had multiple organ failure and his body simply shut down," Patrick Murphy wrote.

It's the first time someone died at the Whitewater Park since it opened in 2015. The park is operated by the Bend Park and Recreation District and uses 26 underwater gates and bladders that are permanently fixed to the riverbed.

"There were no river conditions on Saturday that we're aware of that would have heightened risk. BPRD staff responded immediately and made operational changes to assist with rescue efforts by emergency responders," BPRD wrote in a statement on May 2.

The surf wave is currently offline and will stay that way until BPRD and third-party experts can assess the conditions of the bladder and gate system, parks officials said.

"The Whitewater Park's surf wave will remain flat until such time that we can fully assess what might have occurred in this tragedy," BPRD wrote. "These efforts are urgent as seasonal water levels rise over the coming days and weeks."

The park has had its fair share of injuries and maintenance issues. A month after opening in September 2015, it had to be closed for repairs after two of the pneumatic lines that inflate the bladders became damaged during construction. In June 2016 the tubing channel closed after people reported injuries and damaged floating gear after flipping. Later that year construction crews were deployed to direct water to the center of the channel to keep floaters from getting stuck or flipping.

"With three channels, work completed has been to different amenities at different times. The current evaluation is focused on the surf wave where the tragedy occurred," BPRD Communications and Community Relations Manager Julie Brown wrote in an email.

Flowers, candles and notes are left at the Bend Whitewater Park to commemorate Ben Murphy. The river bank is where surfers make their way to the surf wave. - CREDIT JACK HARVEL
  • Credit Jack Harvel
  • Flowers, candles and notes are left at the Bend Whitewater Park to commemorate Ben Murphy. The river bank is where surfers make their way to the surf wave.

Brown said there are anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of surfers on the whitewater channel in a given day. The district will look for any additional safety measures to reduce risk at the park in light of Murphy's passing.

"Discussions about emergency shutoff capabilities and water rescue equipment have occurred in the past and are being revisited as part of the current evaluation," Brown wrote in an email.

The whitewater passage and the passage meant for tubing will remain online as the surf wave is evaluated. Brown said there will be little information until further along in the assessment over the coming days. Local surfers are planning a memorial Sat., May 7 1pm at Bevel in honor of Murphy.

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...

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