Adaptive Water Skiing

People of all ages and abilities can enjoy the fun and excitement of waterskiing. All that’s needed is a desire to learn and a body of water that can accommodate a high-speed boat.

Adaptive equipment allows a skier to participate in a range of water sports from skimming the surface in an inner tube, to competitive skiing including slalom, tricks, and jumping. Many leg and arm amputees use the same equipment as able-bodied athletes, but adaptive devices such as sit-skis, outriggers, and shoulder slings, accommodate various levels of ability.

When a student learns to water ski, they are first assessed to determine which equipment will best suit their individual needs. Trained volunteers check strength, mobility, and balance, talk with the student about his or her goals, and discuss any red flags that might be indicated on the participant information sheet (i.e. medications, surgeries, allergies, etc.).

There is a variety of adaptive ski equipment available that allows individuals with physical disabilities to enjoy the sport of waterskiing.

A single ski can be used for those who have a single leg, or if they use a prosthetic “ski leg,” they may be able to use two skis, or a single ski using both legs. Individuals that are unable to stand will ski using a “sit ski,” which comes in a variety of sizes from wide, stable skis to narrow, competitive skis.

“Probably 80 percent of our students use a sit-down water ski that was designed by Royce Andes, one of our instructors,” says Haakon Lang-Ree, Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA Far West. Andes, a quadriplegic after a waterskiing accident, designed the Kan Ski Freedom, a sit ski for people who are unable to ski standing up.

All sit-down skiers use a singlewide ski to which a metal-framed cage is attached. The skier sits in a canvas sling that can be adjusted up or down to change the skier’s center of balance and comes in a variety of models to suit the skiers ability level.

Other equipment used by skiers includes:

  • Outriggers – stand-up water skis that have been cut short and mounted to a steel frame. The frame mounts between the cage and the ski and adds an impressive amount of stability.
  • Quad-back – used when students do not have the torso stability necessary to stay balanced in the ski.
  • Delgar sling – used for students who are unable to use one of their arms. It loops around the shoulder of the student’s good arm, passes behind their back, and hooks directly to the ski rope handle. In the event of a fall, the end of the handle pops off, ensuring that the student is not dragged due to a direct connection to the rope. For those who are able to use regular water skis and stand to ski, many start by using the Barefoot Boom, a long metal arm that extends to the side of the boat. The Boom allows beginner-level students to ski without having to first master the ski rope, and the proximal position of the skier to the boat allows a coach in the boat to give instruction while the student skis.

As with beginner able-bodied stand-up skiers, ski tip connectors can also be used to minimize side-to-side movements.

IMG_1205All skiers, stand-up and sit-down alike, rely on straight arms while skiing to reduce fatigue. However, stand-up skiers lean back on the rope handle to maintain balance. Sit-down skiers, conversely, “break” at the waist and lean as far forward as possible. The sit ski and cage are designed to maximize this position because many skiers who use this type of equipment do not have the torso musculature to lean back against the pull of the boat.

Many DSUSA chapters, and community organizations offer lessons for newcomers. Check with your local chapter for more information, or visit our events listing to find a program near you. USA Water Ski also is an excellent resource.

When it comes to waterskiing, Wyatt Hogue of Chattanooga admittedly has some advantages. He lives in a climate that provides a long, warm-weather season, he owns his own boat, and he learned the sport when he was 15 – and had the use of both of his biological arms. When a car accident at age 22 resulted in an above-the-elbow amputation, he had the same questions as almost every amputee – ‘will I be able to do what I did before?’

For Wyatt the answer was yes. Now 34, he is frequently seen slalom skiing, wakeboarding, or hydrofoiling behind his Supra Launch on the Chickamauga Reservoir. “I would tell anyone ‘you can do it. It just takes a little more patience,’” he said. “The key is you have to want it.”

Post-amputation, Wyatt amazed his friends when he began skiing again, including deepwater starts, instead of dock starts. “Even though my friends told me I wouldn’t be able to do it, I did,” he said. However, having only one biological arm presented some challenges when trying to maintain grip at the start of a run. “There’s a tremendous amount of force at a deepwater start,” Wyatt said. “Because of the force of the boat pulling me out of the water, by the time I got up on the ski, I was worn out.”

Wyatt figured there had to be another method that would provide him the power to get waterborne without as much stress on his arm, so he searched the Internet and read about Tammy Allard, a right below-elbow amputee, and a champion skier. Her record includes winning two gold medals at the 2000 Nationals Disabled Water Ski Championships, two gold medals at the 2001 Nationals, and 2003 National Slalom Champion.

Wyatt contacted Tammy for advice, and she told him about the Delgar Sling. The Delgar Sling is a harness device with a strap that connects from the shoulder and hooks to the ski rope handle. It compensates for the uneven pull of the rope otherwise experienced by someone using only one arm.

Wyatt does not use a prosthesis when engaging in water sports, but for everyday activities he was recently fitted by his prosthetist at Fillauer Companies, Inc., (Chattanooga) with a new product – the Utah Hybrid arm. Wyatt was among the first amputees in the nation selected to field test the arm developed by Motion Control, Inc., a Fillauer company. He accompanied Harold Hume Sears, president of Motion Control, Inc., to the Annual Academy Meeting and Scientific Symposium held in Chicago in early March. There, Wyatt spoke to practitioners about the benefit of the arm, and its ease of use compared to a conventional body-powered arm. “After 12 years, using a body-powered arm takes its toll,” he said. “The new Hybrid Arm is lighter, and provides a lot more speed of movement.”

Adaptive Waterskiing Coaching Manual

Water-Skiing-2Bill Bowness, former Paralympian, multichampion and gold medalist in both disabled waterskiing and disabled snow skiing, completed an adaptive coaching manual that will help coaches and trainers learn how to teach individuals with disabilities to ski. The manual is designed to assist learn-to-ski programs develop their instructors, and to improve the quality and consistency of adaptive water ski instruction.

USA Water Ski, the National Governing Board of all towed water sports, introduced a Coaching Development Program in 1991 to provide a structure for the certification of water ski instructors and coaches through a three-step process, or three levels, of education, participation, and evaluation.

More information about the adaptive certification and manual can be obtained through USA Water Ski.