The KAOS! gods must be pleased with us. For the third straight year in a row, our Kids are OuttaSight! paddling event is preceded by a day of rain, filling the Conestoga River from a low-level back up to a fun-level.
This is indeed a promising sign…as many boaters know, a day scraping down a semi-wet stream is not really something you classify as “fun.” But, FUN is what KAOS! is all about.
This year’s event will be larger than those in the past, but with one significant difference: boats. For some time now we have had to borrow boats for our smaller paddlers since it is kind of tough for a 40-lb visually impaired child to effectively paddle a large whitewater kayak. So, this year, we started early and put out the call for the local kayaking community to consider donating their older, less-used playboats to the cause. And did they ever!
Along with some loaner playboats from TRR National’s Executive Director, Joe Mornini, we have – for the first time in KAOS! history – enough kid-sized boats to go around! On top of that, we now have a core fleet of five KAOS! boats that belong to the chapter. This permits KAOS! to be a year-round program instead of a special event.
So, what’s the big deal? Why do we even try to teach blind and visually impaired children how to kayak? Independence! Kayaking is one of the few activities that blind and visually impaired people – and their families – can participate in with only simple adaptations in gear and technique. Think about it: someone who is blind has great difficulty hiking (they need to be physically touching their guide for the most part), biking (often on a tandem bike), running (usually with a tether to their guide), golfing (they need an aiming partner and can’t drive the cart), and so on.
Kayaking with a KAOS! paddler is much more independent. The paddler is in their own boat and are in charge of their own propulsion. The only adaptations really required in most instances is using tape to index their paddle so they can tell if it is properly oriented and for their guide to provide verbal cues on boat direction and paddle strokes. Verbal commands such as “Eddy-turn to the left in 3, 2, 1, GO!” or “On-Me” are typical.
Jim Riley, Southeast PA TRR Chapter Coordinator and certified kayak genius, has engineered some amazing technology to guide blind/VI paddlers who also have a hearing impairment. He has adapted a smart phone to send guiding signals to the paddler’s PFD which has four directional vibrating servos. These signals can either be manually directed by the paddle guide on a river or automated based on a GPS route planned beforehand on lakes and bays. This major advance in guiding technology will, I am certain, provide blind / VI paddlers with another level of independence and expand the sport to new paddlers in a way we’ve yet to fully understand. For more information about this technology, contact Jim at Jim.Riley@TeamRiverRunner.org.
So, tomorrow, July 8th, we will be on the river counting smiles and hopefully changing a few lives. Come on out and join the fun!