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  • Meg McCall

Putting It All Together: Using Adapted Kayak Equipment on the Water

This is the fifth in a seven part blog series describing the Juballa family's experience in getting a fully adapted kayak for their young adult son, Raymond. Go to the end of this post to see other articles in the series.

With the important adaptive equipment now in place, we moved the kayak from the front deck to the back driveway in preparation for a trip to the nearby kayak launch. We placed the kayak on an adaptive kayak cart and propped the front of it with a re-engineered plastic crate. Here’s where things got a little challenging.

using a patient lift with sling
Trying the lift for the first time.

Rosanne had acquired a used, high-quality patient lift to move Raymond from his wheelchair into the kayak. She also purchased a sling to be used with the lift. It had been a long while since the family had been trained on how to use a lift and sling and, suffice it to say, there was a learning curve. (See our post on using lifts for tips.)

The main issue was the shape of the sling. This particular one had a hole cut out in the seat area so that when Raymond was lifted, his derriere sank through the hole and his legs jack-knifed up at the knees. We all recognized this was neither correct, safe, nor comfortable, but Raymond was a good sport about it all. (Rosanne went out and got a more suitable sling the very next day.)

Ultimately, David and Rosanne lowered Raymond into the cockpit. Raymond left the sling in place beneath him, with straps tucked away so as not to present an entanglement issue, to make it easier to exit the kayak when he was finished. It took us another hour to place additional padding along and between Raymond’s legs, figure out how to use his wrist adaptations from Creating Ability, put on his PFD and make other adjustments.

By now it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and we’d all been out in the hot sun for five hours. Our goal had originally been to get on the water that day, but we all were a little beat by this time and decided to wait until the following weekend for the official launch.

Raymond's DIY Transport Trailer

Fast forward one week, and I was once again at the Juballas’ home. I had heard rumor that Raymond was going to use his wheelchair to transport the kayak himself to the launch site, but it wasn’t until I saw his homemade trailer that it all made sense. Remember how I said Raymond has a knack for engineering? He had designed a custom trailer, fashioned out of variously sized PVC pipes. It latched to the back of his chair on one side and connected to the bow of the kayak on the other. "I designed it using some CAD software in order to be able to attach it to my power chair so I could semi-independently bring it to the boat park," he says.

Rosanne and David had brought out all the gear, including their own kayaks, the outriggers, PFDs, paddles, the lift, air-filled cushions, sunscreen and more. They had a pickup truck mostly loaded and ready to meet Raymond at the launch. We all held our breath as Raymond started moving forward, curious to see if the trailer and kayak would make it through the tight turns and obstacles of the driveway. Not surprisingly, it worked! Not only did it work, but Raymond showed off a little bit by backing the kayak back into the driveway – in perfect form!

With a little more practice under their belts, Raymond, Rosanne and David were able to navigate the lift much more gracefully and safely using the new sling. After Raymond was settled in the cockpit, sitting atop the adaptive kayak cart, we all pitched in with the remaining adaptations – fitting the seat and thigh support between Raymond’s legs, adjusting his PFD, attaching the outriggers and lowering the mount that supports the Versa Paddle. With everything in place, we all crossed our fingers as Rosanne rolled Raymond, the kayak and cart directly down the ramp and into the water!

A Few Adjustments, As Expected

With Raymond actually on the water for the first time, he encountered a few minor problems. The Versa Paddle shafts can be adjusted to one of three different lengths, and we had approximated the best length before starting out. Once on the water, however, he wanted to feel the difference between using the paddle angled downward versus straight. He found the angled position to be more comfortable. In the angled position, however, there was a slight obstruction between his wrist adaptations and where the Versa mount attached on the side coaming during his back stroke. Raymond has subsequently been more aware of the potential obstruction issues and made adjustments accordingly.

The three of us paddled about a mile up the canal against a steady wind. Raymond practiced turning, going backwards and generally getting comfortable with the equipment. At one point, Rosanne rescued a little girl’s balloon that had floated onto the water only to have it pop as she handed it back to the girl’s mother. We even had a three-way race from one point to another. (We decided it was a three-way tie.)

I Feel Free

Early during the outing, I overheard Rosanne ask Raymond how he was feeling about the experience. “I like it, it’s great.” Then she said, “Okay, but how are you really feeling?”

“Free,” he said. “I feel free.”

After about an hour we all headed back to the ramp. Rosanne got out of her kayak and brought the kayak cart to the water’s edge to help Raymond back onto the parking lot. She couldn’t get the cart under the front bow of his kayak, so she waded about waist-deep to the stern. She had to apply downward pressure to get the balloon wheels to lower into the water to get the cart under the kayak. It took a little maneuvering, but other than going home wet from her waist down, it served its purpose. Rosanne subsequently reports that Raymond has found a more efficient way to move the cart beneath the kayak at launch and upon return.

We all pitched in to transfer Raymond out of the kayak, detach all the equipment, and load everything back into the pickup truck.

As I was about to leave, Rosanne popped her head through my car window and told me how “huge” this entire endeavor has been. “You don’t know how much a difference this will make. Now Raymond can meet his buddies at the launch and go kayaking on his own, with his friends,” she said. “We are so incredibly grateful for your help and everyone else who has helped us on this project.”

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Putting It All Together on the Water (you are here)

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