The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program has trained thousands of people to ski and snowboard on frozen water over the years, but this summer WASP will be using the same water in its liquid form to offer whitewater kayaking to people with physical disabilities.
"Most adaptive kayaking programs are in sea kayaks, not whitewater boats but we have a program that will develop whitewater skills that will move into the Soo River at the end of the clinics," explained Chelsey Walker, coordinator for WASP.
The instructor is Dave Calver, an Ontario native who travelled the world guiding whitewater expeditions before joining the University College of the Cariboo in 2001 as the instructor for their whitewater adventure guide program.
Calver suffered a spinal cord injury in 2003 while mountain biking in the Kamloops area, and is now a paraplegic. Since then he has become involved with WASP a sit ski instructor.
He also lost no time getting back in his boat.
"I was injured on October 29 and did rehab in Vancouver until I was released on January 31 st to go back to Kamloops. I think I was on the river again by April of the same year," he said.
"There are certain situations on the river where Ill realize that Im missing some stuff, like in some super-aerated boiling water in steep creeks my hip is not as strong, but I still paddle everything I used to be able to paddle."
The real challenge is usually access getting down to the put-in areas and into the boat, then back out again. A lot of the top kayak creeks are in challenging locations, "even for able bodied people its not easy," said Calver.
The other challenge is ensuring that a disabled kayakers lower body is tightly secured so their upper body can more easily control the boat.
"Theres definitely a lower body component to whitewater kayaking, but because the sport is so upper body intensive a paraplegic can really easily transition into it," said Calver. "Theres nothing in the stroke mechanics you have to relearn, but there are some adaptive techniques in terms of balance points you need to figure out."
The equipment is also standard, as able-bodied paddlers also have to customize their kayaks to a certain degree says Calver.
The first adaptive kayak course will take place on June 29-30 in Alta Lake, with the assistance of Don Butler of Captain Holidays Kayak and Adventure School at Wayside Park. In total it will run three weekends, at which point Calver will decide whether the group is ready to tackle some whitewater probably the Soo River, but possibly the Green River.