On a sunny weekend day in June of 2011, a man walked into Surf and Adventure Company in Sandbridge and rented a sit on top kayak for the day. In and of itself, that’s an unremarkable event, it happens all day, everyday over the summer. What set this particular rental apart from the norm was that the man involved was an above the knee amputee, a former Marine by the name of Nik Miller. At the end of his paddle, Nik struck up a conversation with the shop guys. He told them that he thought paddling the kayak was awesome, but that it was a little too slow. They told him if you want to go fast in a kayak, call this guy, and they gave him my name and number.
Over the next month and a half, Nik and I tested out kayaks, modified surfski foot braces and pedals, and became good friends. We figured out that having a prosthetic leg makes performance paddling more challenging, but not impossible. One of the problems is that the foot attached to the prosthetic leg can’t push a foot pedal for steering. Literally, using duct tape, bunjee cords, and foam noodle material, we developed a pedal system that would allow steering to the right and left with just the left foot. Steering system figured out, check.
Anyone who has learned to paddle a surfski knows there was some swimming involved, as they are a little tippier than sea kayaks or sit on top kayaks. Swimming’s nice on a hot day, but then one has to get back in the ski. We went through many, many assisted rescues, so much so that I was worried we would reach the point of “OK, that’s enough.” The worries were unfounded, as Nik’s motivation would not allow frustration. Period. We kept paddling, the rescues became less frequent, then one day in deep water off Chick’s Beach, Nik self-rescued. Twice. Self rescue figured out, check.
Nik is now the owner of a Stellar SR surfski. He has competed in two races, and there’s no end in sight for his racing career.
Conversations between us kept turning to surfskis and disabled veterans. One thing led to another, and we co-founded Team River Runner-Virginia Beach. Team River Runner is a non-profit organization that uses kayaking as a mechanism to help wounded warriors heal. Most Team River Runner chapters focus on whitewater kayaking, but due to the local geography we will mostly do kayak surfing, kayak touring and kayak fishing. We have spent the fall and winter recruiting and training volunteers and wounded vets. We’ve had great support from the community in the form of the use of one of Surf and Adventure Company’s trailers, and use of the pools at Virginia Wesleyan College, Old Dominion University, and the Newport News YMCA. There was a great turnout at the Paddle for Patriots race in September, and we’re anticipating 100 paddlers for for the Great Bridge Lock Mess Race on June 9th this year in Chesapeake.
If you or someone you know could benefit from what we do, or if you have any interest in volunteering to help, contact Chuck or Nik at: [email protected], or check us out on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/index.php?lh=d08284577b3e0ca718e000fb09bc321a&eu=fViJhw….