(Warning-: You may begin to have too much fun if you decide to purchase an Oru Kayak!)
I've found throughout my life that if you really want to do something, there's a way to do it, even if you have a disability that gets in the way. My disability is cerebral palsy, which affects my trunk and legs. That hasn't stopped me from doing everything I've dreamed of doing---throughout my life I've raised and shown horses, caved and rappelled, sailed, hiked, and done a lot of canoeing and some white water rafting, and traveled (A LOT!). My newish favorite activity, especially since we're living out here in the drop-dead gorgeous Pacific Northwest, is kayaking.
Out here we have bays and inlets and lakes, all with absolutely breathtaking scenery. But I lived here for six years before attempting to kayak, and here's why:
Back when I was younger, the only kayaks I knew about were river kayaks, the kind with the hole you had to shimmy your body into. And that scared me. I tried getting into one of those kayaks once and just physically couldn't figure out how to do it. I also was terrified about getting rolled in a kayak and not being able to get out, so I stuck mostly to canoeing.
Then, maybe about four years ago, I went to our annual family gathering at the Outer Banks on the east coast, and my aunt had a sit-on-top kayak she let me use. And that turned out perfect for me--I could get in and out fairly easy.
After that experience, I REALLY wanted to buy a kayak I could use out here in the PNW. We found a couple of places nearby that rented sit-on-top kayaks, so I got my kayaking fix that way for one summer. But I hated being limited to just the seasonal places- where I could rent a kayak. I wanted to be able to pack up my own kayak and have the freedom to paddle wherever I chose.
BUT: I was still intimated, and mostly because of the cerebral palsy issue. CP is caused by brain damage that occurs usually before you're born. You develop normally in the womb, but a wide variety of things can happen that can trigger the brain damage, and once you come out, you're stuck with a myriad of impairments. My big impairment is that from my trunk down my muscles are tight. They don't flex normally, which means I'm just not very supple and my balance absolutely sucks. My tight hip muscles force me to walk with a swinging gait. I can't lift my leg much higher than a couple of inches off the ground. Until I got surgery on my Achilles tendons, they were so tight I walked on my toes, never on my heel. I don't FEEL any of this, it's just there. But it plays havoc on my balance because I can't readjust quickly.
A good example of this is walking up steps. Normal people's legs and hips flex and tighten as they climb to adjust to the shift in weight. Mine can tighten no problem, but they can't relax. So if I don't have a rail to hold onto while I'm climbing or descending, I'll tip over to one side and just fall. The balance is that bad.
So I knew getting in and out of kayaks would be an issue for me, and sit-on-top kayaks seemed to be my best choice. BUT they're heavy as hell. And that was my second issue.
Again, balance. What intimidated me about buying my own kayak was how to transport it. I already knew there was no way in hell I'd be able to pick up a kayak, even a semi-light one, and walk with it or get it onto the roof of my car, not even with a bunch of bells and whistles like kayak lift assist systems. I had this bad feeling that if I spent all the money on extra equipment just so I could buy a normal kayak, it would still be too intimidating to load and unload and cart the thing, and I would not end up kayaking very much. The kayak, and all its accoutrements, would sit in my already cluttered garage taking up space and collecting dust.
Cue the ORU KAYAK.
What I ended up investing in was an Oru Inlet. Oru is the brand, Inlet the boat. Oru Kayaks are known as "origami" kayaks because they're made of a lightweight but uber-strong plastic and they fold down to the size of a suitcase. They can easily fit in the trunk of your car and take up practically no space in the garage. My Inlet weighs twenty pounds, which is manageable for me to lift and carry short distances (for longer distances I either have to have my husband carry it or, if the beach isn't too sandy, I can roll it down to the water by propping it on top of my walker). I can set it up myself, get it into the water myself, fall clumsily into it myself, and very sloppily get out of it, drag it out of the water, put it away, and get it back into the car. Getting in and out of the kayak isn't exactly pretty, and I'll talk about how I do it in a future post, but the point is: this boat fit my needs. And I'm so happy to have it. It's opened up the world of kayaking to me.
This kayak isn't a sit-on-top, but it is an open cockpit as you can see here, so no getting into small holes:
Getting in and out of an open cockpit vice a sit-on-top is a bit trickier for me, but manageable. Thie Inlet is also only meant for kayaking on flat, calm water. It is definitely not meant for sea kayaking, so I cling close to shore while I'm using it (Oru does sell kayaks that are sea-worthy--I've tried one of but I prefer the wideness and stability of the Inlet for now). And because the Inlet is so lightweight it doesn't do great in windy conditions. I always check the wind conditions before I venture out. Ten miles per hour is the most I'm comfortable with, and even then kayaking isn't so pleasant. But for my intents and purposes, this is the most FANTASTIC boat.
Oru kayaks do have their issues. The seat isn't the most comfortable, for one, but I've made adjustments. All the parts are plastic, which can break after time, but there are ways to fix those issues too. They aren't going to track as well as a heavier boat. But none of that matters to me--having this kayak gives me the freedom to get out and paddle around whenever and wherever I want (as long as "wherever" is fairly flat and calm!). It's my main source of exercise and allows me to get out on the water at least two or three times a week.
So this type of kayak fits my disability. If I had more knee issues, it might be harder to assemble because you do have to set up the thing which, for me, requires me to get down on my knees to do it. (If you watch a video on how to set up an Oru Inlet, you'll notice that they stand to do it, but nope, that doesn't work for me because of previously mentioned balance problems.)
I've had this kayak two years now. I enjoy it so much that I convinced my husband to get one too (he has an Oru Beach--a little harder to set up but still only 26 pounds!). And now we have the freedom to travel around and kayak in places like this:
In my future kayaking post, I'll describe the places I've kayaked with my Oru and rate them for how easy/hard these spots are to deal with if you are disabled (or for anyone, actually!). Stay tuned!