Focus on Carlsbad Fall 2020 | River Traditions

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River Traditions: Paddle Boards with Saundra Hester

Flowing from northern New Mexico through Carlsbad and into the Rio Grande, the Pecos River is a vital part of the town’s culture and community life.

The miles of cool running waters offer an oasis for visitors to boat, fish, and swim! The city of Carlsbad, along with other local donors, has developed the area along the river with parks, picnic tables, and a 4.5-mile long riverwalk that provides paved biking and walking trails along the banks of the canal. Whether it’s for a leisurely float or a brisk swim, the waters provide a fresh way for residents to cool off from the dry, desert heat.

Like many of us, Shelby and Saundra Hester were motivated to explore the great outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic and make the most of the social-distancing summer. The couple decided they were going to take advantage of this time and try out a new sport. With foam boards purchased from Sam’s Club, Shelby, Saundra, and their nine-year-old daughter, Graci, began their journey paddle boarding down the Pecos River. “Graci is a little fish! She likes to jump off the board and will help paddle occasionally. She is also our Captain!” explained Saundra.

The family moved here in 2017 and felt an instant connection to the community of Carlsbad. With a love for adventure, the family integrated well into the lifestyle and culture of Southeast New Mexico. The Hesters have created their own river tradition of paddling miles as a family, searching for treasure and enjoying a picnic along the way. Saundra explained, “Adventure drives the activity. It’s so fun to let the kids explore and navigate!”

Graci Hester
Saundra and Graci

When they began, the family watched safety videos online to ensure they were taking all the right precautions. With some practice, they built their confidence and continued to challenge themselves. The family paddles their boards along several routes down the canal, utilizing various access points. “The beach is a good place to practice since there are lifeguards,” said Saundra. One of their more challenging routes begins at the flume bridge and continues along the whole tour of the canal.

In addition to the obvious physical benefits of exercise and increased balance, the family also values the community they have found on the river. “There are a lot of moms taking kids along with them for the ride. I have met more than five moms out paddling with their kids,” she explained. The family often paddle boards the Pecos waters with their friends and neighbors, creating memories and enjoying river life in Carlsbad.

Tips from the “Pros” of the Pecos:

  • Always wear a life jacket, especially in the event of winds. There are strong currents in the river and jackets save lives.
  • The water at the flumes and at the beach is shallower and one can comfortably stand.
  • South of the beach area has the least amount of traffic. Watch out for jet skis and boats; boats cause wakes!
  • Get out on the water early; winds are stronger around 11 am.
  • Wear clothing with bright colors and reflective material.

Article written by Jessica Addington and originally published in Focus on Carlsbad 2020 Fall edition.

River Traditions: Open Swimming with A.D. Florez

The wide water of the Pecos River at Carlsbad is a long-standing tradition at the heart of many aquatic activities.

To learn more about some of the recreational activities associated with the river, A.D. Florez, a local triathlete, recently answered a few questions about distance swimming in the Pecos River.                

How long have you been a swimmer and an athlete?

I’ve been an athlete most of my life. The last six years I’ve focused on triathlons.

How far do you swim?

I usually swim 1,000 to 2,000 meters per training session. That’s roughly a half a mile and a mile respectively for distance reference. 1,650 meters is a mile in a pool.

How did you begin training in the river?

I had to start swimming in the river due to Covid-19 shutting down the local pools. I mostly swam at Bottomless Lakes State Park in Lea Lake, but access to that lake was also eventually denied.

Were you part of a group of athletes or did you discover the river on your own?

I swim mostly with fellow triathlete, Ron Haugen.

What are the benefits of training in the river? What are some of the cons?

Open water swimming is critical training for triathlons. There are really no cons, except maybe weather issues like high winds or cold temperatures.

Do you enjoy swimming in pools?

Pool swimming can be monotonous but really helpful to improve your technique. We have really nice pools in Carlsbad, especially at the high school natatorium.

What’s been the best experience when you’re in the water? What’s been the worst experience?

My best experience was doing a 9 min. 30 sec.swim in a sprint race. My worst was during my first Ironman in Tempe, Arizona. I got hypothermic and water came into my lungs causing me to get disqualified by 12 seconds. Big bummer!

What’s your advice to swimmers looking to take a dip in the river?

Get in the water early, before 10 am!

What should swimmers know about the river?

There is a section at the Lake Carlsbad Recreational Area that has the best access at the beach where families and kids can swim and play around.

Article written by Kaity Hirst and originally published in Focus on Carlsbad 2020 Fall edition.

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