Words by John Streit.

During the summertime, Surf & Adventure Co. puts thousands of people on the water around Sandbridge. Whether it be in kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards or surfboards; our goal has always been to get folks active in the waterman sports on which we base our lives.

For many of our rental customers, their time on the water is just something fun to experience while on vacation. But every once in awhile, we’ll get that person who comes back from their excursion with such positive energy that there’s no doubt that they’ve found a new life’s passion.

A perfect example is Nik Miller, who rented a kayak and paddled our waterway last June. For Nik, kayaking was an activity that suited his physical limitation: the former Marine is amputated above his right knee.

After chatting it up with Nik post-paddle, shop owner Rob Lindauer connected Nik with Chuck Conley, an extraordinary distance kayaker and our resident tour guide trainer. Nik knew he wanted to go faster than our rental kayaks could allow, and Rob knew that Chuck could get him there.

Since that day last year, Nik and Chuck grew a friendship that’s led to the men forming Virginia Beach’s first Team River Runner chapter. Team River Runner is a non-profit organization that uses kayaking as a mechanism to help wounded warriors heal.  Most Team River Runner chapters focus on whitewater kayaking, but due to the local geography Nik and Chuck put an emphasis on kayak surfing, kayak touring and kayak fishing.

The chapter is still in its formative stages, but has already hosted several group paddle events throughout the area. Nik and Chuck have been busy training volunteers and wounded veterans alike both in the area’s many waterways and at the pools at Virginia Wesleyan College, Old Dominion University and the Newport News YMCA. They also hope to have 100 paddlers involved in the Great Bridge Lock Mess Race on June 9 in Chesapeake.

But the journey between Nik’s introduction to paddling at S&A and the present didn’t come without unique challenges.

“We figured out that having a prosthetic leg makes performance paddling more challenging, but not impossible,” Chuck said. “Nik’s motivation would not allow frustration. Period.”

After troubleshooting leg-operated steering systems and learning how to self-rescue on tip-overs, Nik’s become a passionate and active surfski paddler, having already completed two races and – of course – establishing Team River Runner Virginia Beach with Chuck.

Nik’s story is truly inspirational, and we feel very fortunate to have played a small part.

To support or to get involved in Team River Runner Virginia Beach, please visit their Facebook site or email Nik and Chuck at  trr.vabeach@gmail.com.

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