Hawaiian surfer creates opportunity for wheelchair-bound to paddleboard

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By Elizabeth Murray

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.

The board has helped people like Terina Sprauge, who has been confined to a wheelchair since she was eight, when she was in a motorcycle accident with her father. Paddleboarding, she says, helps her feel a sense of normalcy. 

"Emotionally, I think it's good to be out on the water," she said. "To be with other people who are paddleboarding, you just feel like you're one of their peers and nothing's changed; nothing's different. You're paddleboarding just like anyone else would."

That normalcy is also felt by Scott Eischen, who trains with the board seven miles each day. Paralyzed in a car accident, Eischen says the special board is therapy, both physical and mental. "Whatever worries you might have, bill, doctors, as soon as you get on the water, all those thoughts go right out your mind," Eischen said.

Eischen said it's also important to know that this is something he can do on his own. "It was really hard to always want to ask people for help; I always felt like a burden," he said. "Doing this, it's something I can do on my own; you can get a little of that freedom back."

For Eischen, one thing regularly goes through his mind when he's out on the board: "Man, God created all this beautiful stuff - you know. We get to still enjoy it."