Hawaiian surfer Kawika Watt had a simple goal when he decided that he wanted to bring his love to the water for everyone, and make paddleboarding, a popular beach activity, just as accessible for those with disabilities. “I’m just a surfer,” Watt said. “I said, ‘Look brah, I wanna put a wheelchair on a surfboard or a stand-up paddleboard and then create something.'”

The result was the “Onit” Ability Board, a paddleboard that accommodates people with wheelchairs, allowing them to participate in water sports they might not have before. The board features a wheelchair designed for beach environments fixed to a specially crafted standup board, with special outriggers attached to each side of the board to balance them for users and a special ramp to lower them in the water.
“The way the board is designed, it’s instant independence,” Watt told NBC’s Hallie Jackson for TODAY.



With a design reminiscent of the outrigger canoes of ancient Southeast Asian maritime cultures, a new-to-market product has merged old and new technology to provide people with disabilities access to the open water.

t was just last year that avid surfer and Hawaiian native Kawika Watt and his partner, James Rouse, embarked on an exciting and fulfilling venture. Their goal: to empower people with disabilities to discover independence, freedom and enrichment through participation in water sports. Their means to achieving it: Onit Ability Boards.
This unique adaptive paddle board system actually incorporates a meticulously crafted standup board, an all-terrain surf chair, a custom ramp which allows the wheelchair user to roll onto the board unaided, and a mechanism to lock it securely in place. Outriggers on either side lend stability as the rider skims across the water’s surface. Advanced paddlers can remove these outriggers once they have mastered the balance.

A dedicated surfer before his motorcycle accident 26-years-ago, Charles Webb was one of the first to utilize the Onit Ability Board following his brother’s chance encounter with Watt. “Kawika believes in helping people,” he told SUP Magazine. “We were two people praying for the same thing. I wanted something to get me back to a normal life and he wanted to help people with that. It was too surreal to be a coincidence.”

Paddling provides significant aerobic exercise, honing both physical skills and mental well-being. In Webb’s experience, the benefits of a month and a half of thrice weekly training far exceeded the years spent in rehab. In addition to increased muscle strength, balance, mobility and circulation, paddlers find themselves with elevated confidence and reduced stress, body fat and dependence on pharmacological treatments.
According to Shad Eischen, “The Onit System is great. It has brought back a sense of freedom and independence back to my life. It has allowed me to get out on the water and become one with nature. The rehab benefits of the system are the greatest part for me. It’s a great workout system and has really strengthened my core.”

Whether your goals are competitive or rehabilitative, Onit Ability Boards allow you to do it all. Stop by their booth at Abilities Expo and see why, “You’re on in because we are Onit!”


The company’s quest to build the ultimate adaptive SUP rigIt’s another beautiful day at Cardiff reef.
Surf is a steady three to four feet with bigger sets. Conditions are clean and I am stoked there have been a few double-ups ledging on the reef with the incoming tide. That last wave was pretty sick and as I am paddling back out I look over just in time to see a guy on a surfski go over the falls on a clean, hollow right. Based on the size and weight of that board I’m thinking to myself, “That’s gonna leave a mark.”

Mark Thornton is no stranger to Macgyvering his adaptive SUP rig. With Cobian’s help, it could be the ultimate! Photo: Mark Thornton

I return my attention to the incoming sets and after a moment I realize the guy on the ski still hasn’t surfaced. With my eyes pealed I finally see that this surfer is slowly drifting out of the impact zone, but appears to be struggling to remount his board. As he takes the next two waves on the head my concerns elevate and I paddle over to assist him. It looks like he needs some help.
Within moments, I’ve descended on the paddler trying not to get entwined in what appears to be a slew of equipment: leash, board and a paddle attached to his board with another leash. ‘Is all this gear necessary?’ I’m thinking to myself as I try to assess whether this guy’s troubles resulted from getting hit by his board.
Upon closer inspection he appears coherent and happy to see that help has arrived. I ask him, ‘You OK man?’ but before he can say a thing, we collectively brace for another wave of whitewater. As we emerge he says, “I’m OK. I could use some help getting back on my board though.”

I’m happy to assist in stabilizing his board as he begins to pull himself up and get situated. What I expected to be a quick mount becomes a 30-second endeavor. During the process, it becomes obvious that this guy does not have use of his legs and was mustering all his upper-body strength to compensate.

“Wow,” I think to myself – this guy has a lot of balls being out here, competing in decent-sized surf on what appears to be a pretty antiquated craft.

“My name’s Mark, what’s yours?” he says.
“Aubrey,” I respond with a new found respect. “Thanks a lot!” Mark says as we disengage. As he starts to paddle back into the lineup, I realize he didn’t really need my help. Although I’d seen him in the water before, I never knew he was an adaptive surfer.

Who would have known, that this encounter would draw me deep into the daily struggles that adaptive surfers like Mark face; not only in the water but in merely getting to and from the beach.
Over the next several months, every time I saw Mark in his van in the parking lot, I’d give up a good chunk of my surf time to assist him: riding his wheelchair lift up to the roof to get his board down, waiting to assist him with his wetsuit or board preparation, transporting him to the water while on his board using a trailer device, and giving him a well-timed water launch to beat the next set.

Although Mark never showed any signs of discouragement being an adaptive surfer, I couldn’t help but picture myself in his situation. Considering what changes I would have to make in order to maintain the same sense of freedom and enjoyment that surfing has provided me for more than 40 years.

Needless to say, the thoughts I had were none too positive and after considering the tools that Mark was working with–dilapidated van, worn out wheel chair, etc.–it moved me to a point where I decided some action needed to be taken. I wanted to help enable any adaptive surfer with the ability to be independent in their pursuit of surfing, an ability other surfers take for granted on a daily basis.

Although Cobian has been providing quality sandals and casual footwear for more than 20 years, it was formed by John Cobian as a platform to serve others less fortunate. So not surprisingly, after sharing this initiative with our project team, it took all of about one second for the team to give resounding thumbs up.
Our goal is to work with a variety of adaptive surfers at the forefront of the sport, to identify needs related to their surf vehicles–including associated accessories, devices, surf equipment–in an effort to design and manufacture the Ultimate Adaptive Surf Vehicle.

If successful, this project would enable our participating athletes to demo the effectiveness of the UASV project and hopefully inspire other adaptive athletes to join the adaptive surfing movement and community.
At the end of the day, it is our hope that this project will enable all adaptive surfers to be as autonomous as possible in their pursuit of catching waves–providing them with a stoke that can only come from the ocean.


Region’s first adaptive paddling program offers lessons and kayak excursions designed specifically for people with disabilities.


GREENFIELD, NH – Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center’s Accessible Recreation and Sports Program (CMARS) is accepting registrations for its 2015 paddling courses and kayaking excursions. CMARS’s adaptive paddling program is specifically designed for people with disabilities by providing paddling courses with certified and licensed recreation therapists and volunteers trained in adaptive paddling support, techniques and skills.

Adaptive paddling sessions will be held throughout July and August for individuals at beginner and advanced levels.

“The CMARS adaptive paddling program offers participants the sense of freedom and exhilaration of floating on the water,” said Kristin Harris, CTRS/L, CMARS program coordinator. “Our lesson and excursion groups are small, with one-to-one support, and we provide modified or adaptive equipment to allow for a safe, supportive paddling experience for beginners and more seasoned paddlers alike.”

CMARS adaptive paddling courses are held on Sunset Lake in Greenfield, which features an accessible dock and transfer area. Beginner group kayaking excursions take place on Sunset Lake, while more advanced paddlers can explore various waterways throughout the region, such as Gregg Lake in Antrim, Powder Mill Pond in Hancock and others.

CMARS provides participants with necessary adaptive and safety equipment for all programs.

For more information on paddling dates, costs and to register please visit www.cmf.org/paddling or contact Kristin Harris at cmars@crotchedmountain.org or 603.547.3311, ext. 1664.

CMARS is an adaptive recreation program of Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, serving individuals of all abilities. Every year, CMARS provides hundreds of lessons to children and adults with disabilities to help them safely learn to ski and snowboard, kayak, cycle, hike and participate in other recreational sports with the support of adaptive equipment and instruction.

About Crotched MountainCrotched Mountain Foundation is a charitable organization founded in 1953 with a mission to serve individuals with disabilities and their families, embracing personal choice and development, and building communities of mutual support. Crotched Mountain provides specialized education, rehabilitation, community and residential support services for more than 3,000 people throughout New England and New York. For more information about Crotched Mountain, please visit www.crotchedmountain.org.