09 November 2010

Sea Kayaks for People with Disability

Lou, a friend’s daughter survived a horrific MVA which resulted in the amputation of one of her legs. Lou has been asking me how she can become a sea kayaker.
After talking with her, I remembered ‘Birthright’, a moving short film I had seen. In ‘Birthright’ Sean Mullens captures Michael’s daily ritual to find his natural self through surfing.
BIRTHRIGHT from Sean Mullens on Vimeo.
I reflected on ‘Birthright’ and options for Lou. Sea kayak manufacturers invest a lot of time and money into developing and improving sea kayaks, but what about kayaks specifically designed for people with disability? Weren’t sea kayaks well suited to people with lower limb mobility challenges?
During my search, I was drawn to Hybrid Unlimited, the project of sea kayaker Andre Janecki who is trying to develop a recreational kayak specifically designed for double leg amputees and paraplegics.

Hybrid Unlimited Designer Andre Janecki
Andre’s concept is that to feel free, to feel natural, feel in the moment, means you need to be independent.
The Hybrid Foundation Ltd, a not for profit organisation was formed to design and develop products to support people with disabilities.
Andre’s design, the Hybrid Unlimited is the world’s first kayak equipped with wheels.

Hybrid Unlimited concept design
Getting to, in and out of the water without assistance, is the key. Having motorised wheels would make the job much easier. In Andre’s design, quad inflatable sponsons are used for safety and durability. Seats are individually cast to the paddlers profile and a breathable top deck provides additional comfort. Aeronautical quality composites keep the weight to a minimum. This is no ordinary kayak, but neither are the paddlers the Unlimited is designed for!
Intrigued, I asked Andre a few questions to try (and) better understand the Project.
Andre, why is your design special?
Because it's the first ever kayak with wheels! Wheels are the key factor so you can go down and up the boat ramp on your own! To feel free you need to be independent!
Have you been able to test your design?
To fully test the UNLIMITED we need to "stretch" the scale down model for another... 4meters (12ft)! However with over 20 years of kayaking experience I know that this kayak will perform as intended (including the fun as well as the safety factor).
Do you have any indication on the demand for your design?
I wish there would never be demand for it, but sadly accidents happen every day. I can't quote double leg amputees statistics, but there are 80 cases of paraplegics per year (half of it involving young men) and this is only in Australia.
Will the kayak be transported on roof racks and if so will assistance or a special system be required to do so?
The roof rack or the passenger seat will do. The kayak centre section which includes the 3 wheels and the seat (I call it 'a cocoon') is only 1.2meters (4ft) long and will weight no more than 6kg (16lb). You shift your self in to it like the standard wheel chair and 'zoom' around your car to pull up the paddle, PFD, lunch box, sun glasses, etc. Then by flicking a switch the car battery will inflate the side sponsons (in less than 5 minutes) and you ready to roll down. Having the wheels motorized would obviously help (specially on the way up) but for the time being a 20 meter (65ft) long thick rope with equally spaced knots will do the job.
Where will the Hybrid UNLIMITED kayak be manufactured and how affordable will it be in comparison to sea kayaks currently on the market?
As a kayaker I see no boundaries. I am willing to sign with anyone regardless where (and who) they are. The UNLIMITED will always remain as a "recreational special need kayak" with cost equal to a quality "expedition sea kayak".
Andre, how do you fund the Hybrid UNLIMITED Project?
The Concept Design is on me. I am committing $350.00 from every "Hybrid 550" (a sea kayak like no other, in Andre's words) sold worldwide to the project.
But for the full size prototype we need a Sponsor with $50k. Funding is needed to purchase components and custom made features like carbon kevlar disc wheels, inflatable sponsons, vacuum mouldings, etc.
Will the Hybrid UNLIMITED kayak be available internationally and how will I be able to test and purchase one?
Internationally of course! But before we can test (and purchase) one, we need to find a Sponsor for this project! If there is one area I'm hopeless (and a failure!) with, it’s the correspondence to government and corporations. In September and October of 2009, I travelled through Europe, USA and Canada where the Project was well received, but we still need a major financial partner/sponsor.
Should anyone wanting more information contact the Hybrid Foundation Ltd directly?
By all means! I hope that together we can make it happen sooner! hybrid8@bigpond.com
Finally Andre, if you had one wish what would it be?
I wish for no accidents at all. But knowing the statistics I really wish for a CEO somewhere to realise the rewards for sponsoring the UNLIMITED ... at a cost equal to a replacement set of boardroom chairs!

Will the Hybrid UNLIMITED Project help Lou realise her goal? I don’t know, but a project as ambitious as this seems to sit appropriately within our sport, a sport that fosters ambitious sea kayaking expeditions and ‘firsts’.

Race Around Australia's Freya Hoffmeister Hybrid Foundation Ltd
image Andre Janecki_used with permission

If you have suggestions or comments to help Lou or Andre realise their goals, please join in this discussion and add your comment below.

Footnote - On 3 Dec every year, International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is celebrated worldwide to recognise the achievements and contributions of people with disability. One of IDPwD's aims is to involve people with disability and the broader community in activities to celebrate and raise awareness of IDPwD.