The Craig Fahle Show

Michigan Builds First Universal Kayak Launch

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The kayak to me is freedom. To be able to go out and free yourself of your natural surroundings, you’re able to do something completely unnatural and it’s a little frightening but it’s also very exhilarating." - Chris Castille

Kayaking is kind of a cross between canoeing and rowing. Michigan’s inland lakes and the Detroit River make this state one of the fastest growing places for the sport. Recently, the city of Wyandotte built a kayak launch to accommodate the growing demand. WDET’s Martina Guzman went down-river to report on what is known to be the first solar-powered, hydraulic kayak launch in the state of Michigan.

(Audio of Chris getting into water)

Chris Castille has been kayaking for 20 years. On a perfect summer evening Chris beautifully glides down the Detroit River while light flickers off the waves.  He’s handsome, physically fit…and…he’s a lower leg amputee.

“I had changed jobs and was going out to industrial tectonics in Dexter from Ypsilanti and was involved in a motorcycle accident…It was a traumatic amputation my leg was lost…”

His accident took place more than twenty years ago. While recovering …Chris battled depression and body image issues.  He changed careers… and… developed a love of being on the water. 

“I never got into a kayak when I had all four limbs. It’s one of those things where usually you say ‘can I do that since I lost my leg?’ well did you do it before? Well I don’t know. In this case I had never kayaked before I lost my leg so it was a whole new experience. You know, sweaty palms, just waiting to flip over.” 

Kayakers will tell you that the hardest part of the sport is getting into the kayak itself. So imagine what that’s like if you’re missing a limb? 

"Right off the bat, you have balance. On most kayaks you’re looking for a very stable kayak, when you get into it you have to be very careful not to flip it over."

But a new state of the art launch built at Bishop Park is easing the stress of people with disabilities…allowing them to enjoy the sport without the fear of flipping over.  

"The kayak wants to roll…slide around a little bit and with this type of lift…literally it brings you right out of the water that’s taken right away from you… I take my leg apart and throw it in a dry bag…so that way I don’t fry the computer. 

The universal lift is designed for people with special needs, seniors or anyone that could benefit from assistance. The special launch has a combination of solar power so it can be operated anywhere… a hydraulic assist…and a transfer station which allows people in wheelchairs to lower themselves into a kayak or canoe. 

"The response from the disabilities community has been incredible. We’re working with several groups from Special Olympics to groups of, from U of M. There’s been a lot of different groups that we’ve kind of been looking for ways to do activities'"

That’s Tiffany VanDehey, the owner of Riverside Kayak Connection.  Last year she partnered with Great Lakes Lift & Docks and the City of Wyandotte to build the Kayak launch, the first of its kind in Michigan. 

“It’s the first one on the Detroit River; we were one of the first ones to be developed but it just after, you know, after some time getting the location set up. But we think this one helps with more people because, it’s a hydraulic system.”  

To a person with all four limbs… a hydraulic powered launch might not seem like a big deal…but to people with disabilities, it can mean the difference between being involved in the sport or not.  Michigan based Great Lake Lift & Docks… created a new take on an old model. 

"A lot of them have a roller system so you have to pull yourself up onto the launch. So this one you paddle right in…"

Being on a Kayak for the first time can be exhilarating…but to Castelle it’s independence. 

"The kayak to me is freedom. To be able to go out and free yourself of your natural surroundings, you’re able to do something completely unnatural and it’s a little frightening but it’s also very exhilarating., you know you go out with a group of people, a lot of time your peers, other people with limb loss-- upper or lower --and you get to bond with people and do something super exciting

Castille says he has fully come to terms with losing a limb.  He enjoys being an avid kayaker… and before the season is over he plans to paddle twenty miles from Lexington to Turtle Rock in Michigan’s thumb area to raise awareness for Extremity Games… a national competition of extreme sports for people with limb loss. 

I’m Martina Guzman WDET News

To see a photo slide-show of the Kayak Launch go to

Photos courtesy of Cybelle Codish

Click on the audio player above to listen and feel free to add your comment below.