When I decided to return to kayaking I knew that my major problem was going to be stability in the kayak. In my particular case, stability is even more of an issue because of inner ear damage which presents critical balance problems. My inability to come up with a foolproof method to control my listing has prevented me from writing about my kayaking experiences sooner.
I began by searching the Internet looking for some system which would provide the stability an individual with quadriplegia would need in order to be able to paddle. I ultimately found the system I use on a website entitled Spring Creek Outfitters. Spring Creek is a guide service near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a large 1,000,000 square mile wilderness area, between Minnesota and the Canadian province of Ontario. The pontoons I found were first developed to steady a kayak so a person could stand in it and fly fish. I have made several adaptive changes that make the system more functional for a person with quadriplegia. If you look carefully at the pictures at the right you can see a small hole has been drilled in the tube that holds the individual pontoon in the square tubing. A clip was then placed through the tube to prevent the pontoon from falling off if the screw should loosen. Also, two of the bolts that fasten the bracket which holds the pontoon frame on the kayak have been removed and replaced with eyelet bolts. I have tried many different methods to provide upper body stability but have finally decided to use a ratcheting cargo strap with its S-hooks placed in the eyelet bolts. Then the strap is passed around my chest and tightened. This method provides greater lateral stability. I also removed the seat which came with the kayak and replaced it with the GIC Outdoor Bleacher Back Stadium Chair which I purchased online at Sunny Sports for $20. A very similar chair is sold on Access to Recreation for $280. The metal frame combined with a ratcheting cargo strap provides a great degree of upper body support.
My kayak is a Perception Prodigy 10. I selected it because it has a large cockpit 23 inches wide by 51 inches long making it easy to lower me into it. In addition, it is also only 10 feet long weighing just 43 pounds which makes transporting it much easier. The hull modifications make tracking (going straight) much easier, as well. Furthermore, the Prodigy 10 is very affordable.
It is impossible for me to participate in an activity like this without quite a bit of help. My wife, my nurse and several friends are usually present whenever I go. We have some close friends who live about a half an hour away and have two large ponds on their property. The fourth or fifth time I went kayaking I had a serious mishap. We did not realize that as a result of transporting my kayak a screw holding one of the pontoons in place had loosened. While paddling, the pontoon on my left side rotated 90° and instead of being parallel to the kayak it became perpendicular. The natural tendency of my upper body is to list to the left so as I went to stroke on that side my weight shifted and the kayak turned over. Since I am strapped in the kayak and my hands are strapped on the paddle there was little I could do. Fortunately, two of my friends who are both strong swimmers were able to get to me and keep the kayak tilted enough so I could breathe while they brought the kayak to the shore. As I have said before, “Nothing comes without risk”. We have changed our protocol so that we check all the equipment before each paddle. We also are continuing to evaluate the systems and procedures we have devised to provide better safety. (Kayaking Safety Update) The challenge of this type of activity reminds me of a quote from Christopher Reeve "I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life. I don't mean to be reckless but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery."