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  • Meg McCall

The Adaptive Kayaking Consultation: A Critical First Step

This is the second 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.

Conducting a thorough evaluation of a person's abilities, needs and goals is arguably the most important step in adapting a kayak to meet the requirements of that specific paddler. It’s usually done in the form of a one-on-one consultation between the paddler and one or more trained adaptive kayaking professionals.

This initial consultation covers a lot of territory, and not just anyone is equipped to do it. For instance, just because someone has a Level 5 kayak certification doesn’t mean they understand the differences in adaptations needed for a paddler who has tendonitis verses one who has paralysis from a stroke or who has a spinal cord injury.

Or, even though someone is a professional recreational therapist doesn’t mean they know the ins and outs of kayak safety.

Here's an example of a typical oversight: someone may recommend a mounted, straight paddle to a paddler who is paralyzed on one side and has only limited mobility on the other side. The set-up may allow the paddler to kayak using only the arm that has partial function. Problem solved, right? Not necessarily.

Over time that paddler could be risking an overuse injury on their functioning arm/shoulder. Obviously, if you have just one operating shoulder, you want to protect it, so a straight paddle that requires a large range of motion on one side may or may not be the best option. In fact, that’s why many paddlers turn to the Versa Paddle, because it can be angled downward on both sides, resulting in a much smaller range of motion and thereby putting less strain on the paddling side.

Safety & Physiology: Both Are Important

The key is to find experts that have knowledge in both kayaking safety and human physiology (e.g., a physical therapist, rec therapist, adaptive specialist, etc.) so that there is a strong understanding of how a particular adaptive set-up will affect the paddler. Certified adaptive paddling programs and instructors are an excellent place to search for such expertise.

adaptive kayaking consultation

In Raymond’s case, we paired him with one of our highly experienced adaptive paddling consultants to evaluate his mobility, strength and aspirations around paddling. The initial consultation was conducted over live video chat, and the consultant asked the following types of questions:

  • What prompted you to look into adaptive paddling (e.g., an injury, a disability, arthritis, loss of a limb, rotator cuff surgery, adaptive program, etc.)?

  • What is your official medical diagnosis, if known (e.g., Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, C4-5 Complete Spinal Cord Injury, etc.)?

  • Please demonstrate what mobility, if any, you have in your (wrists, forearms, shoulders, torso, etc.). How far can you lift your arm(s) up?

  • Please demonstrate your hand and wrist motion.

  • How is your coordination or balance? Do you require trunk support?

  • Can you turn your head? Your torso?

  • Have you ever kayaked before?

  • What safety training have you had or will you take before kayaking? (Note: Testing in a controlled environment, such as a pool, is recommended.)

  • Where will you be kayaking (e.g., a calm, flatwater environment, a river with rapids)?

  • Who will be kayaking with you and what kayak safety experience do they have?

  • What other equipment or devices will you be using while kayaking (e.g., hearing aid, prosthetic leg)?

With the new information gleaned from the assessment, the adaptive consultant was better able to recommend the equipment that would best suit Raymond's needs.

*Note: Even if you’ve taken the time to find a highly skilled adaptive paddling expert, you should always get the approval of your medical provider(s) before embarking on a new activity such as adaptive kayaking.

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The First Step: An Evaluation (you are here)

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An article on the importance of adaptive rowing counseling resonates deeply with the essence of hospice care, demonstrating a shared commitment to inclusion, empowerment, and improving the quality of life for people with unique needs.

Just as hospice care focuses on tailoring support to the patient's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, adaptive rowing consultations emphasize personalization. Given individual abilities and challenges, these consultations ensure that everyone can enjoy rowing while experiencing a sense of accomplishment and freedom.

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