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Outfitting A Kayak For Paddlers With A Disability

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Across our nation, and in fact, the world, the physically challenged are being given more opportunities to leave their handicap on the shore as they launch into the sport of kayaking. From Japan to Scotland and throughout the United States organizations are adding paddling programs for the disabled.

“Sea kayaking is like backpacking to me, except everything is stored in the boat and paddling replaces walking. I can explore environments and challenges independently,” related one disable adventurer.

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Individuals like Mark Theobald are greatly enlarging such options for people with varied limitations. Called “the disabled kayak inventor/engineer extraordinaire!” by his peers, he has developed kayak paddle and backrest adaptations for the sit-on-top that is encouraging this safe and easy kayak to become the paddle craft of choice for many organizations with disability programs.

If you are interested in learning how to provide safe assistance to disabled paddlers, or are disabled and want to participate in the sport, here are some resources:

Learn more about his activities in California with disability programs, the individuals’ participant and his adaptive designs for the sit-on-top kayak.

  • Denise Dowd is a key member of Disabled Divers International in California and organizes local kayaking trips for disabled paddlers and dive trips for disabled divers. She is an energetic instructor with PADI and the Handicapped Scuba Association (HAS)

Denise teaches people with disabilities to dive and she runs an Instructor Training Course (ITC), teaching instructors how to work with disable in dADA paddleriving.

  • The American Canoe Association has published a book on “Canoeing and Kayaking for Persons with Physical Disabilities” (available, although currently out of print); The ACA does not yet integrate Sit-on-tops into their instructor training. They do have an active disability program for certified ACA instructors.
  • UCSB Adaptive Paddling Program run by Rick Van Hoorn. He has worked with Mark when USCB did their first clinic. For more information or to enroll, call 805-687-7444 Ext. 2012
  • Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Anyone interested they can contact the coordinator Ashley Fitzz at 805-264-0510.
  • Adaptive Adventures offers opportunities primarily for people with physical disabilities including, but not limited to: amputations, paraplegia, quadriplegia, birth defects, cerebral palsy, head injury, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, stroke, and visual impairment. Adaptive Adventures also provides a nationwide index of Adaptive Sports & Recreation Programs for a variety of sports available by state. See

Below are a few questions Adaptive Adventures strongly recommends you consider when evaluating the quality of an adaptive program. Use these for “checking out” a service provider before traveling great distances or entrusting loved ones to someone else’s care:

  1. Do you know anyone who has participated in the program in the past?
  2. Are the instructors well trained and/or certified in the activities which they are teaching? What kind of previous experience do the staff and volunteers possess?
  3. Who is responsible for training staff and volunteers?
  4. Does the program do a personal evaluation to assess your goals, objectives, and needs?
  5. What type of adaptive equipment does the program provide? What condition is the equipment in? Do they rent equipment for personal use (on/off site)?
  6. How accessible are the facilities associated with the program? Issues such as parking, ramps, shuttles, and distances to covered are all important.
  7. What are the costs to participate? Do they offer any discounts or scholarships?
  8. Will they give references?

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