Adaptive Kayaking & Scuba Diving. Disabled, Handicapped. Adaptive Sports, Adapted

  Disabled Adventurers                              
      227 Tennyson St., Thousand Oaks, CA 91360             (805) 427-1128   

Bringing the sport of kayaking to the disabled through training and development of adaptive equipment!



September 1 and 2, the Rehabilitation Institute at Santa Barbara, UC Santa Barbara Adapted Aquatics Program, and others from the local area and from as far away as Morro Bay, came together to bring a few days of learning and fun to over 28 total participants at the Santa Barbara marina and bay area. Fourteen of the participants had disabilities ranging from hip and spinal disorders through quadriplegia.

Friday night, we had the Los Banos Del Mar pool all to ourselves to fit participants to the adapted kayaks and have them out for a practice session. We all met again early Saturday morning and moved more than 24 kayaks down to the "outrigger beach" east of the boat ramp, for a fantastic day of fun in the sun and nearly two full hours of paddling around the entire Santa Barbara harbor, including venturing under the walkways at the west and north ends.

My latest designs, which included paddling fixtures and seat adaptations that now attach to a stock Malibu Two kayak without ANY modifications, and a pair of gloves which incorporated a Velcro palm to assist in gripping a paddle, were put to great use throughout the day. One gentleman, who seemed to have the greatest degree of disability of them all, was the last one we were able to coax off the water!

After we packed up all the boats and gear for the day, we all gathered in the park by the pool for a great catered lunch and debriefing. Thanks to the extraordinary planning and effort of the coordiantors from UCSB and RISB, this rather large event came off without a single hitch!

Our most recent outing with the SCORE group was on October 25th
at the UCLA Marine Aquatics Center. We had 20 kayaks out and
paddled all the way out beyond the outer breakwall and back: 2.4 miles!

Click on this line for an article published
in UCLA's Aquatics Program Newsletter.

On September 13, we met for the third time at the UCLA Aquatics Center
with Jane, Josh(?), Sean, and 4 (3 not shown) other disabled adventurers at 2PM.

Sitting between Jane and Sean is (I think) Josh (and I appologize if I remembered your name wrong!). Josh suffered a severe bicycling accident two years ago and has great upper-body strength. Standing to Sean's right is Steve. Steve is an integral member of the UCLA Aquatics Center in Marina Del Rey.

On July 12, we got together with the SCORE group (
again at the UCLA Aquatics Center in Marina Del Rey
where we had another opportunity to put two of my paddling
fixtures and seat adaptations to the test.

For the second time in just a few months, Sean (SCORE founder) brought together another enthusiastic group of kayakers at the UCLA Aquatics Center in Marina Del Rey. One of the guests was Jack Fischer (white shirt and pants, on the turquoise XT), whom I am happy to say is becoming a regular in the group, not only for kayaking, but also for scubadiving. Denise and I have had the pleasure of diving with Jack on several occasions over the last few years, and even on the coldest of days he was the most enthusiastic and energetic of the bunch! Jack is a school teacher in Los Angeles who suffered an accident while training for the Olympics on the parallel bars about 24 years ago. I think Jack turned 47 this year (2003) and so he has been a quadriplegic for approximately half his life. I saw a photo of him doing the "Iron Cross" during his training years, and I have to say he must have been quite an athlete then and he still is today!

Click HERE for photos of Jack and me diving at Catalina!

Here is what my friend Kay had to say about her involvement with this event:

Dear Mark,

Thanks for taking me with you last Saturday (July 12, 2003) for a very special day I will keep in my heart always. Please pass this on to your readers:
I was one of many able-bodied people escorting four happy, brave, disabled people on a kayak paddle around the Marina Del Rey channel. The "Fab. Four" included Jane, Jack, Sean, and Gerald...and they were awesome!

I can't remember when I last held a continuous smile on my face for such a long duration. Jane was a trooper! I felt her joy as she slowly moved through the water on her kayak using a non-traditional method....paddling with her feet! It was amazing to see this vibrant young woman with so much "go power" and determination. Sean and Gerald were equally enjoying themselves and could go much faster using their able upper body strength. Jack (a quadriplegic) paddled around with Mark Theobald (the disabled kayak inventor/engineer extraordinaire)! (OK, that's what she wrote so I guess I'll leave it in. ;~) MT) Jack had such a great attitude about his disability as he handled his kayak with smooth precision and a huge smile on his face!"

SCORE (which stands for Spinal Cord Opportunities for Rehabilitation Endowment) ( is a wonderful organization that enables people to get out and enjoy themselves in extrordinary ways. Sean treated everyone to lunch and the camaraderie continued into the afternoon. The entire day was fantastic and oh so inspirational. I shot a bunch of pictures, but none of them can compare to the photo I have permanently imaged in my heart.

Thanks to everyone for letting me join you. I hope to go again.
Kay Zetlmaier

On May 17, Jane challenged us to find a way to let her use my paddling fixture
without using her hands!

This event took place in the harbor at Marina Del Rey and was organized by members of the UCLA Aquatics program and a foundation called SCORE. I'll publish more information on these points soon.

Jane was also the first to make use of the seat adaptation, including the padded PVC pipe seat adaption described above. We had her on the Scrambler XT at first, but it proved to be too unstable for her because of the way her disability affected her upper body.

Here is what I first wrote about Jane:

Jane is a second-year college student at UCLA, in her early 20's, and suffers from CP or a CP-like ailment which causes similar disabilities. She has severely limited control over the upper half of her body, to the point where her speech can be quite difficult for some to understand. Because of her lack of arm and hand control, Jane came up with the idea of moving my paddling fixture far enough forward for her to use her feet to paddle the kayak. She needed both the paddling fixture and seat adaptation on the Malibu Two. Without the seat adaptation she would have rolled right off the kayak! And, because of her spasms, the Scrambler XT just wasn't wide (stable) enough!

And here is (part of) the email that Denise wrote back to me after I wrote thanking her for getting me involved in this particular event:

"Thanks. The feelings are mutual. Working with you and Jane yesterday is truly what I call a "Magical Moment." It is moments like these that excite and light me up in life. My eyes just welled up in tears and my face with laughter and a smile when I saw Jane take off on her own in that kayak. We are so incredibly blessed to have experiences like these that bring so much joy to our lives and benefit others beyond belief. Within Jane's voice, which was so difficult to understand at times, I recall the words she spoke so clearly-"

(Jane's comment)
"This is so cool! I never thought I would be able to do this! We did the unexpected!"

(Denise continues...)
"It is days like these that are soothing to the soul, there has got to be some chemical change that occurs in our bodies with experiences like this, cuz I feel really good! Awesome work!!!"

Denise's email really sums up the way we all feel! It does feel really good, but it is also simply a lot of fun to be out there with such enthusiastic and high-spirited adventurers!

On April 1, Aaron went out on the water for the first
time since his Xtreme-Downhill Skiing accident two years earlier.
Noone who saw him paddling would have guessed he is quadriplegic!



One of the best contacts I could possibly hope to offer you is that of Denise Dowd in Carpinteria, California. Denise is a key member of Disabled Divers International and organizes local kayaking trips for disabled paddlers and dive trips for disabled divers. She is an energetic instructor with PADI and the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA). Denise teaches people with disabilities to dive and she runs an Instructor Training Course (ITC), teaching instructors how to work with the disabled in diving!

If you are interested in learning how to provide safe assistance to disabled paddlers and divers, Denise can offer "Buddy Diver" and "Buddy Paddler" instruction for a nominal fee to cover the cost of course materials and commercial boating fees. Class groups are encouraged to inquire! I participated in one of Denise's Disabled Diver Buddy classes in June and am now certified to dive as a buddy with certified divers having any level of disability.

So far, I have relied heavily on Denise's knowledge and expertise in my outings with the disabled paddlers using my adaptive paddling fixture. Denise organized the outings and brought together the participants in addition to making side trips to Santa Barbara to borrow extra kayaks from Mark Olson's shop - Paddle Sports. Denise can be reached by email at: denise.dowd at cox dot net.

Here's Denise trying the fixture out for herself!
(Click On then Drag Across the Photo for Special Effect!)



Another great resource in the Santa Barbara area is Mark Olson, formerly of Paddle Sports at 100 State Street. Mark is regularly involved with teaching kayaking skills and leading kayak excursions for paddlers with disabilities. I don't know what it is about these guys, but like his counterpart, Denise Dowd, Mark's energy level is through the roof! He always has plenty left to share his expertise in kayaking with paddlers of all abilities and disabilities.

Mark can be reached via email at: moceankayak at earthlink dot net, or by way of his old shop at: (805)899-4925.


On April 28, 2001, local kayak distributors, retailers, and paddling enthusiasts will be conducting another kayak outing for area disabled kids and adults. We will be using sit-on-top kayaks designed by Ocean Kayak, Inc., in particular the extremely user friendly Malibu Two because of its stability and manueverablility, and the fact that it will allow the parents or other able-bodied paddlers to participate with the disabled individual.

Cindy Tokar of City of Ventura Community Services, Mark Olson of Ocean Kayak, Inc., Rich Arnold and Mike Lamb of Channel Islands Kayak Center in Oxnard, Denise Dowd of Disabled Divers International in Carpinteria, and Mark Theobald, publisher of, are hosting this event which is being organized by Cindy Tokar. Special recognition for these events is due to Mark Olson and Denise Dowd for their extraordinary effort in bringing these events together and providing the equipment, manpower and knowledge needed to make them safe and successful. And, I would like to personally thank Ocean Kayak, Inc., not only for designing the absolute perfect kayak for these outings in the Malibu Two, but also for providing generous support for these events by way of direct donations of kayaks and accessories, and much needed assistance through their local dealers and distributors. Thanks OK, we couldn't do it without you!!! -Mark Theobald

The April 28th, 2001 outing was a huge success! We had 23 kayaks and 31 paddlers out on the water all at the same time!!! One tandem group on a Malibu 2 and a single paddler on a Drifter (and don't ask me how he did it on the Drifter) managed to capsize within the first few minutes of the outing. Otherwise, we had a very nice, and uneventful, two hour paddle along the lee shore of the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.Mark Olson took charge again of the onshore instruction and Rich Arnold (Channel Islands Kayak Center) was there early to help with getting all the boats, equipment, and people down to the lower dock and back. I do have some photos of the upper dockside activity. Unfortunately, as soon as we started heading to the lower docks, I had to put my camera away and assist with getting the paddlers in the boats and away from the dock.

The majority of the people participating were children with disabilities, and, for many of them it was their first time on the water. Another special part about this event was that siblings and parents were able to take part together. The real beauty of these events is that the wheelchair and the disability are left behind as everyone participates at the same level in the water and sharing a fun experience together. Even the most tired of them made no mention of wanting to get out of the water!

Tania Agalsoff was present for the second time to lend much needed assistance in getting gear and boats back and forth and in providing additional able-bodied guide service for the outing. Tania was a local sales rep for 3M Corp., located in Camarillo, CA. Cindy Tokar, City of Ventura Community Services, organized this event and brought all the participants together. It was Cindy who, without a moments hesitation, leaped into the water to recover both the capsized boats and their paddlers at the start of the outing. Not for a moment after did she ever complain of being cold! (The water was a balmy 65 degrees, at best!) She is very committed to those kids!!! Denise Dowd, Disabled Divers International, was present again (and as always) to help in literally every aspect of the event.

I am REALLY looking forward to next time!!!!!!!! We're thinking of trying to put together a kayaking and picnic event at Lake Casitas this summer, with a possible campout to take the event into Sunday! The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two will, no doubt, play a big part in this event too!


During the month of June, 2000, three other divers and myself participated in the "Disabled Diver Buddy Course" which was conducted by Denise Dowd. Here are some of the highlights of this course.

The first part of the course consisted of a four hour classroom session which we conducted in the mezanine of the Oxnard Sport Chalet. We covered all the material in the HSA Disabled Diver Buddy Course manual and followed that up with home study in order to take (and all pass) a comprehensive test of the study material.

The following weekend we conducted the pool session in the Oxnard Sport Chalet pool - special thanks to Sport Chalet for use of their facilities for both of these preliminary sections of the course!!! In the pool session we all took turns diving as paraplegic, quadriplegic, and blind divers. As physically disabled divers, we dove with our legs bound to force us (to the extent possible) to dive without the use of our legs. As blind divers, we dove with masks that were blacked out to keep all light out. In each scenario we simulated out of air emergencies and in-water rescues. As blind divers we even assembled our tank/bc/reg units, donned our gear, and completed the dives all with no sight. After completing the required skills in the pool we had a guest quadriplegic diver join us. She agreed to be our first trial subject in the pool and refined her own skills in preparation for a warm water resort trip she was planning for the near future.

(Note: My first experience in diving with a disabled diver was actually a few weeks earlier when Denise and I did two dives with a paraplegic diver from Arizona out at Casino Point on Catalina Island.)

On June 17th, 2000, we finished the course by completing the open water sessions of the class. The following is a description of the day that I wrote previously and will reprint unedited:

Four other divers and I left on the 7:15 boat from San Pedro to Catalina Island to complete our "Disabled Divers Buddy Course". Three of the others were students - Ken, Ed, and Karri, and the fourth was our instructor, Denise. For the next 8 (long) hours we took turns simulating being paraplegic, quadriplegic (tetraplegic), and blind divers. We dove at the steps in the marine park at Casino Point.

Other than freezing after 15 minutes from inactivity as a quadriplegic diver, it was probably one of the easiest dives I ever made. My "buddies" had to carry all my gear down to the water, then, carry ME down to the water. They lifted me up, laid me down over my weight-belt, put it on, and then the rest of my gear, including mask. Then they carried me out into the water and let the air out of my BC and drug me under and around for a 20 minute dive which included two out of air emergency scenarios. I can usually clear my ears without holding my nose, but because of getting some water in my sinuses, I had to let my buddy diver pinch my nose so I could clear my ears. I didn't cheat the whole dive, even when my mask was flooding and ears were hurting at one point!

The crowds along the shore were quite confused and probably amazed at what we were doing. The funniest part was after being carried up to the top of the stairs as a paraplegic diver, I suddenly stood up and proclaimed that I was cured and could now walk. The crowd was rolling! One of the unexpected benefits of taking this course was how much we learned about our own diving, particularly with regards to weighting. I was surprised to discover how much effort I was using to counteract bad weight distribution, and have since totally reorganized my weight-belt and other dive weights that I use.

On June 25th, 2000, we all got to put our new knowledge to the test. We met in San Pedro and boarded the Western Star, a 55 foot private boat outfitted for disabled divers, and headed to Bird Rock, north of Twin Harbors on Catalina Island. We finished a few skills tests that we didn't have time to complete the previous weekend and then joined Steve Turkheimer for a fantastic dive along the west side of Bird Rock. Steve was great and very tolerant of the four of us trying to give him (no doubt) more help than he actually needed as a quadriplegic with limited use of his arms and hands!


On July 29th 2000, Denise Dowd of Disabled Divers International, Mark Olson of Ocean Kayak, Inc., Cindy Tokar and other members of the California Childrens' Services, and myself, conducted a kayak paddling outing for the disabled kids from the CCS group. We had 25 total participants, including at least 6 disabled kids, 10-12 years old, 4 disabled adults. Able-bodied family members and guests provided much needed assistance in getting all the kayaks and paddlers down to the water.

Mark Olson generously provided (and personally delivered) 6 Malibu II kayaks for the event. I brought four of my own kayaks including my Malibu II. Of note is that Richard, of Channel Islands Kayak Center in Oxnard, offered to open his store early in order to provide 2 Malibu IIs free of charge.

Mark Olson, in his usual energetic best, took charge of the short training class on the docks of Marina Park - Ventura Harbor, and helped get everyone acquainted with the prospect of the paddle ahead. Within an hour we had literally everyone in kayaks and out on the water. The kids had a great time and it was very rewarding to watch the shyest of them take to the sport so quickly.

The paddling session lasted just over two hours on the flat calm waters of the Ventura harbor. We paddled from Marina Park on the west end, all the way to the promenade on the east end. We also explored a few fingers of the Ventura Keys on the way out. The kids raced and played bumper boats all the way and the adults took a more leisurely pace to enjoy the social aspect of the sport (OK, so some of us raced and played bumper boats too!). Two of the adult paddlers took a spill and were able to recover themselves unassisted on a Malibu II. They remained such good sports even in their soakeness!

If you (or anyone you know) live in the Ventura county or surrounding areas, and would like to participate in one of these events as a disabled paddler or able-bodied assistant, please let me know. I am interested in having a hemiplegic or amputee with good use of one arm come out and put my paddling fixture to the test. I have personally paddled it 1 mile out with only one arm and 1 mile back with the other and feel it is definitely ready for this use.