Ingenuity Opens New Doors for Disabled Paddlers

At the SportsAbility event held in Tallahassee in April 2018 by the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, attendees were able to experience the joy of getting out on the water on an iSUP thanks to Tom Weldon who designed an amazing device to allow those with disabilities to paddle safely. Tom is pictured here with Maxim Davis. Photo courtesy of

By Tom Schlichter

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to get back on the water and paddle,” says David Jones. “It’s taken a lot of experimenting over the years, but we finally have something that works really well.”

Jones, president of the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA;, is a 63-year old hemiplegic who cannot use his left arm. He loves to be on the water and, up until this summer, had greatly missed being able to fully participate in paddling situations. With the help of fellow FDOA member and friend, Thomas Weldon, however, Jones is thrilled to be back in the game.

“I’d made several unsuccessful attempts to kayak using different types of paddles and adaptive strap-on devices,” explains Jones. “None of them worked out very well so I basically gave up on paddle sports. With help from Thomas, however, we finally figured out something that works – and it’s opened a whole new world of things I can do, places I can go and groups I can join to have fun on the water. Just recently, for example, I took a trip with Thomas on the Withlacoochee River in northern Florida. It’s such a beautiful place – one I couldn’t have fully enjoyed until now.”

With the help of Tom’s invention and SportsAbility, this young man is able to feel comfortable and stable enough to paddle the Sea Eagle NeedleNose solo. Photo courtesy of

In addition to the awkwardness of most adaptive paddle devices Jones tried out, he found that simply getting in and out of a sit-in style kayak presented plenty of problems, especially during the course of activities. Still, after outfitting yet another sit-in kayak with new adaptive gear, Weldon convinced his buddy to try again. That’s when he came up with a radical idea. While following Jones on a Sea Eagle NeedleNose™ 14 (NN14) inflatable stand-up paddleboard (SUP), Weldon thought of switching the setups to put the adaptive gear on the inflatable SUP. That, he suspected, would be easier for Jones to maneuver, balance, and mount or dismount.

“Worked like a charm,” said Jones. “Thomas went home and built an adaptive apparatus to mount onto the Sea Eagle SUP and it turned out to be great as a sit-down device. He started by securing a sit-down kayak-type seat on the board that enabled me to sit and brace myself so I could paddle with one hand. For the paddle, we used an Angle Oar ( It’s an adjustable, double-bladed oar attached to a pedestal that sits between your knees and rises about 18 inches from the floor. The oar pivots on the center of the pedestal. As you lift it with one hand it puts the paddle in the water on the opposite side. So, you actually use a rowing motion to dip the blades with a kayak paddling rhythm.”

Getting ready to hit the water! Tom’s making sure everything is set for Sunil Patel. Photo courtesy of

To make the SUP extra-stable, Weldon added small outriggers which also responded to foot pressure for improved steering. Attaching everything to the paddle board proved easy since the NN14 had plenty of D-Rings conveniently positioned around its perimeter for securing accessories.

“The seat configuration, along with the Angle Oar, proved a perfect matchup for the Sea Eagle SUP,” continued Jones. “We used it very successively on a river run and plan to use it now on a regular basis with a paddling program we are about to start. Because the NN14 is an inflatable that weighs just 27 pounds we can load several in a truck at once. That makes the logistics of getting them all to the launch site relatively easy. Once there, each SUP takes less than 10 minutes to inflate.”

Tom and Sunil loving the great outdoors! Photo courtesy of

Of course, helping the physically challenged enjoy the great outdoors is what the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association is all about. According to Jones, the program has a mailing database of roughly 16,000 members and offers a series of outdoor adventure trips throughout the year. The program includes paddling sports, water sports and a variety of other outdoor activities. Twice a year the group hosts a major SportsAbility event, drawing between 1,000 and 1,500 participants to each gathering. Their year-round Miracle Sports Program has about 200 active participants, an ALLOUT adventure series offers a variety of outdoors opportunities including hunting, and a program designed to provide resource information for those with brain and spinal cord injuries serves several thousand more.

In addition to paddling, Jones loves to fish. That has led him and Weldon to consider exploring the possibilities of building an adaptive paddle device for Sea Eagle’s inflatable FishSUP™ 126. That paddleboard is wider and even more stable than the NN14, and it is easily tricked-out to be an angling machine.

“We definitely have to look into that one,” says Jones. “Who knows, being wider and super-stable, it might even eliminate the need for outriggers. Wouldn’t that be great?”


Colt Creek State Park, FL, happy and calm to start the day.

by Tom Schlichter

Suzanne Daigle had wanted an inflatable kayak for a long time. She wasn’t quite sure where to start looking, but she did have a pretty good idea of what she needed.

“Fortunately,” she said, “a friend steered me over to Sea Eagle and it turned to be a perfect match. What great advice!”

Daigle, you see, was planning to sell her house, buy an RV, and drive around the country checking out places she had always wanted to visit while finding new spots to investigate along the way. It didn’t take long for her to do some research and narrow her potential kayak choices down to a few Sea Eagle models. As soon as she sold her house, she was on the phone to place an order.

Suzanne’s Fast Track conveniently fits under her RV, so if she decides to stay near the water for a few days she just tucks in and adds a lock and chain to keep it safe and conveniently in reach. Keeping it under the RV also shades it from the sun which, in the long run is good for the kayak shell and color retention.

“For me, that was a symbolic moment – I had the proceeds check from my house sale in my hand, ready to deposit and was already making the call to Sea Eagle from my car. I was heading out on the road with no turning back. It felt exciting, refreshing. It would be the adventure of a lifetime. Having that new inflatable kayak and RV was just the starting point.”

Initially, Daigle, who works full-time as a business consultant, both nationally and internationally, was thinking about a different kayak model but the Sea Eagle customer representative who answered the phone helped her find an even better match for her new lifestyle.

“He took the time to ask me about the kind of things I wanted to do on the water and what I thought was important in a kayak,” revealed Daigle. “After a bit of conversation, he suggested the 385ft FastTrack™ Pro Carbon Package. It turned out to be a sweet fit for my new lifestyle. I’m an organizational transformation consultant. I work hard to help businesses give their employees a greater say in important decisions. I wanted to live my personal life the way I invite organizations to step out and take more risks.”

Two things Daigle knew she wanted in a kayak right from the start was the flexibility to handle both small and large bodies of water, and the feel of a “good kayak” ride. She had previously owned a hard-shell sea kayak that she took on New York’s Long Island Sound and even used to paddle across the Hudson River. These days, based in Florida, she hopes to paddle on the Gulf Coast, tuck in and out of inlets and bays, plus poke around on rivers, lakes and ponds.

One thing Suzanne Daigle really loves about her Sea Eagle inflatable kayak is that she can pull it out of her RV and be on the water in ten minutes. It’s perfect for big water or small – anywhere, any time.

“I’m not planning on whitewater rafting,” Daigle explains, “but I still want the flexibility of a smooth ride in gentle waters as well as the stability and ruggedness necessary for wide open spaces. A little extra room to carry stuff along is necessary, too. I like to bring my breakfast on the water, a towel and enough gear that if I happen to find a little deserted island to relax on I’ll be able to just hang out for a while. The 385ft FastTrack™ has plenty of room, a pair of clip-on dry storage bags, and a great set of paddles that are both exceptionally strong and lightweight.”

Daigle says she is still just getting to know her inflatable, but she’s real happy with it so far. She said she was “blown away by the quality” of the kayak and its accessories. She loves the comfort of the pro high back seats and how easy it is to inflate and deflate. On a recent trip to Lake Placid, FL she paddled on expansive Lake-June-In-Winter before transitioning to a smaller lake and found her FastTrack™ easy to transport, paddle and maneuver in both situations. She’s had it out in strong winds, on quiet mornings, and even on a Florida pond that held a few alligators.

“My brother, an ER doctor, was very concerned that I launched on that one,” she chuckles, “but I felt quite safe since the Sea Eagle is so tough. The company has a video where someone drives a Jeep over one of their inflatable kayaks and there’s no visible damage at all. In that same video, they repeatedly put the claw of a hammer to the hull and it just bounces off. That’s one rugged inflatable, so I haven’t felt worried at all.”

On her most recent trip, Daigle found herself all alone on a beautiful lake, which she instantly realized was exactly why she wanted a Sea Eagle in the first place.

“Sometimes, I just want to get away from it all, to explore, to relax – whether I’m going around the corner or across the country. With my new kayak, I just pull it out of the RV, take ten minutes to inflate it, and go. It’s so easy – no renting, trailering or dealing with anyone else. I’m fully self-sufficient when it comes to kayaking now. That gives me a tremendous feeling of independence.”

As for setting up, transporting and storing the 385ft FastTrack™, Daigle reports it’s been a breeze. She viewed videos on the Sea Eagle website that explained how to easily assemble, inflate and fold-up the kayak for storage, which got her up and paddling in no time.

“Really,” she says,” “it’s nothing you can’t handle. I decided on the Carbon Pro Package because it had everything I needed. It has two tall-back clip-in seats with good back support, two double-end paddles with carbon shafts and asymmetrical blades, two stow bags, a foot pump that works just fine, a slide-in swept-back skeg, plus a repair kit and carry bag. Buying everything together as a package deal saved me about $500 over buying each piece as an accessory.”

One accessory Daigle did add recently is the EZ Cart, which can make transporting a little easier if you have to cover some distance between the car, RV or truck and the launch site. This innovative thinker, however, took the wheels to another level.

“One day my brother-in-law said he saw someone towing a kayak behind their bike,” she reveals. “The first chance I got, I was doing the same. A few straps lashed to the rack on the back of my bike and I was on my way towing my kayak like a pro. So, here I am in my early 60’s, riding my bike, hauling my Sea Eagle inflatable kayak and ready to hit the waters wherever it takes me.. I’m thinking to myself: ‘Wow! I can kayak anytime, anywhere.’ That is so cool. Just pull my Sea Eagle out from the RV and go.”

Where is Daigle headed next? She claims to have no specific destination in mind yet but travel she will.

“For now,” she says, “it’s mostly where my business leads me – maybe out west. I’ll just take things day by day – but wherever I go you can bet my Sea Eagle FastTrack™ is coming along for the ride.”