‘Chair board’ debuts in Huntington Beach adaptive surfing program

Emily Rowley, 20, rides a "chair board" guided by instructor Rocky McKinnon on Friday north of the Huntington Beach Pier.
Emily Rowley, 20, of Camp Pendleton, rides a “chair board” guided by instructor Rocky McKinnon, right, on Friday morning on the north side of Huntington Beach Pier. The city of Huntington Beach, in conjunction with McKinnon Surf and SUP Lesson, debuted the board for its adaptive surfing program. The chair board is 15 feet long and fitted with a carbon fiber race car seat.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Despite overcast weather conditions, a broad smile lit up Rocky McKinnon’s face Friday morning as he greeted others on the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

“This is a beautiful day,” he told a group of people gathered to see his newest creation in action.

McKinnon, a local surfer, instructor and shaper, debuted his patent-pending “chair board” for use with the city’s adaptive surfing program.


The 15-foot board, made of carbon fiber, is equipped with a race car driver’s seat in the middle. This helps give those with mobility issues or cognitive function disabilities a chance to experience surfing.

On Friday, McKinnon went out to catch waves with Emily Rowley, 20. Rowley lives in Camp Pendleton and was born without any arms.

She said she first rode a chair board with McKinnon a couple of years ago at a Best Day Foundation event. But McKinnon said his model is different.

Emily Rowley walks to the ocean with instructors on Friday in Huntington Beach.
Emily Rowley walks to the ocean with instructors, from left, Joe Samoa McMullin, Hendrix McKinnon, his father Rocky McKinnon and Brandon Bianchino on Friday in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“It’s like a step deck,” he said. “Instead of being up on top of the board, six inches above, the chair is now seated down three inches into the board. It brings down that center of gravity.”

With the help of McKinnon and three assistants, Rowley was able to ride a few waves. She said McKinnon has also helped her stand up on a surfboard before.

“It was awesome,” she said of Friday’s experience. “Perfect waves. Even though they were a little rough, it was still awesome ... So far with Rocky, I’ve done a lot of things that I never thought I would do.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr and former City Councilman Patrick Brenden also attended Friday’s event. Brenden is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Huntington Beach, which he said helped with funding for the chair board as well as a beach wheelchair.

Carr said it’s hard to say no to the ideas of McKinnon, who has a contract with the city to provide surfing lessons.

“You really are breaking ground here, and setting the standard for other cities to emulate,” she said to McKinnon.

” I’m so grateful to have someone like you in our community, doing such amazing work. We’ve been talking all year about being a more inclusive community. It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s another thing to actually have the programs in place to be inclusive. With your help, we’re able to do that.”

The event was held at the shore end of the city’s first “Mobi-Mat,” which debuted in May at 6th Street. Another Mobi-Mat, designed for people who have difficulties moving through sandy beaches, was installed Thursday south of the pier, just south of Huntington Street.

Councilwoman Natalie Moser said the city provided funding for the first two Mobi-Mats, and funding from an anonymous donor and nonprofit Warriors With Hope will allow for two additional mats.

So the city has made it easier for those with special needs to not only get to the ocean, but now also to ride waves once you’re there. McKinnon wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If you have the desire, I will make it happen,” McKinnon said. “That’s what I want people to understand. If you have the desire to get in the ocean and ride waves, I will find a way to do it.”

He said he also offers an outrigger surf canoe and SUP boards up to 14 feet long.

“I try, at least in my world, to show that the ocean is this beautiful, healing place. We can challenge ourselves and face our fears, but also put a smile on your face and enjoy yourself and get good exercise. It’s so key for your physical health and mental health. I’m just trying to put smiles on people’s faces. That’s what I feel my mission is, my purpose is, to share my passion with others.”

Emily Rowley is taken out to ride a "chair board" on Friday morning in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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