SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — The call of the sea is still there.
Six years ago, an accident rendered Tim Lippoldt, a captain and active mariner out of Port Isabel and the Island, a paraplegic.
On Thursday at Jim’s Pier, he took the deck again as captain of the 25-foot Triton christened the ICAN, a specially designed craft made expressly for anglers of all ages with disabilities.
“It’s the most phenomenal feeling I’ve felt since my accident, it is uplifting, something I’d never thought I’d do again, ” he said. “And Shane and this project has made it possible. It is amazing.”
Shane Wilson is the founder of Fishing’s Future, a nonprofit dedicated to forging family bonds and to educate about fishing.
Wilson and his organization now have chapters in 20 states and says the ICAN will become a prototype to spread fishing opportunities for the disabled across the nation.
“We’re here to remove barriers,” Wilson said.
The ICAN is a 25-foot pontoon boat which was nothing special until weeks of work modifying it to accommodate wheelchair-bound anglers was complete. Now, there’s nothing else quite like it anywhere.
Modifications to the boat were carried out by Wilson and Island residents Russell Davidson and Bill Hoenes, who volunteered both time and skill.
Customizations included moving the captain’s console forward for better wheelchair accessibility, reinforcing and clearing the deck of obstructions, installing a lift and removing the carpet over the deck for a harder, more durable and wheelchair-friendly covering.
“I’ve kind of hung out on the sidelines, these guys have done all the work,” Lippoldt said. “I come around and let them know what I need, somebody in my situation might need, because they’re not here, they’re not in my chair, and where I need to grab or where I might need to turn, or I need elbow room because I’ve got to hit my brakes.”
Disabled anglers must follow through with training before they can board the ICAN for a trip into the Laguna Madre. That consists of four, 45-minute Zoom sessions about fishing skills. Registration is required for all Zoom sessions and fishing trips.
Lippoldt has renewed his captain’s license, and after the ICAN was christened, Steven Pena of Los Fresnos became the first of what Lippoldt and Wilson say will be a flood of anglers who will make South Padre Island a mecca for disabled sportsmen and sportswomen.
“I just want to say I’m very grateful. It’s been five years since Steven was in a car accident and it’s the first time in five years he’s been able to come to the Island,” said Gilberto Fuentes, Steven’s godbrother.
“It’s really, really tough for him in a wheelchair to get on the water or anything, and just having this opportunity is a blessing, a blessing for us and for him,” Fuentes added.
Steven said was “a little” anxious about the fishing trip but was ready to go.
“Steven has gone through the Zoom classes, the entire family, a family of five has gone through these classes to learn how to fish,” Wilson said. “And now as soon as we get done launching and christening this wonderful vessel, we’re going to go out and we’re going to catch some fish, then we’re hopefully going to come back in here to the Painted Marlin and have a beautiful fish dinner.”
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