Adaptive Paddleboarding!

Amy Saffell
Brian and Amy, ready to go!
A few years ago, I heard about adaptive paddleboarding on The Today Show, and I was immediately intrigued! The Onit Ability Board was designed for people who use wheelchairs to be able to paddleboard while sitting in a wheelchair, affixed to a paddleboard. Simply transfer from your chair to the all-terrain surf chair with a locking mechanism attached, wheel on to the paddleboard, and away you go. I love being ON water, but not so much IN water, so it looked like something that I would really enjoy. The only problem was that it was gaining popularity in coastal areas, not in landlocked Tennessee where I live, even though we have a plethora of lakes and rivers. 

Fast forward to this spring, when I heard from a friend that there was an adaptive paddleboard instructor, teaching on a calm section of a local river in Atlanta, with an Onit Ability Board. He was looking to get the word out and get more people paddling. I jumped at the chance and planned a trip for a group of high schoolers that I work with through ABLE Youth, a local wheelchair sports and independence group, another one of our ABLE Youth staff members, who is a wheelchair user, and me. I knew that none of the students had ever paddleboarded either, and I was excited for all of us to be introduced to a new water sport.

We had an absolute blast! Our instructor, Brian, was awesome. He put the outriggers on the board since we were all first-timers, so we all felt safe. It was easy to get into the chair, and Brian helped us maneuver onto the board, in the right position. Brian joined each of us, on the board, to help us learn the strokes and to help us steer, while we got used to the overall feel of paddleboarding. It was awesome to be freely paddling on the river. I don’t do many water sports, so this was completely new to me and such a fun experience! 

Paddling through the water took endurance but not an incredible amount of strength per stroke, so people with reduced arm strength may be able to do it. Having an instructor on the board, also means that help can be given, if fatigue sets in. There are also different types of attachments for the paddles so that quads can paddle, too. Upon my arrival back to Nashville, I immediately set out to bring adaptive paddleboarding closer to home, and I’m hopeful to be back paddling on the water soon!

To learn more about the Onit Ability Board, visit see The Today Show’s feature, visit The American Canoe Association is overall US paddle sports. Visit them at to explore adaptive paddle options, in your area. There is an adaptive section to their website.

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