I’ve been a wheelchair user since the age of nine. Before this, family beach holidays were a favourite of ours, but my new ‘on wheels’ situation didn’t go too well with sand or sea. So, beach times were cut short and city breaks ensued. Subconsciously, I then took a disliking to sunbathing, swimming in the sea and getting sand between my toes, almost as if pretending I didn’t like those things would make the fact that I found them difficult all the easier. Thank goodness I eventually found beach wheelchairs.
Years passed in which I ignored sun-worshipping trips and instead took time to visit museums and become interested in culture – something I knew I could do, with or without the ability to walk. I had to change my thinking, however, when I landed a job working as an accessibility consultant in Rio de Janeiro, a city renowned for its incredible beaches and surfing spots. But how I was going to navigate these sandy beaches was a question I needed to find an answer to.
That was when I found out about AdaptSurf , an organisation set up to ensure that those of us with disabilities could access the beaches and all water activities included with it, expecially the ability to surf. Excited at the opportunity to rekindle my love for the sand and sea, I went along, and certainly wasn’t disappointed. The group had made the beach accessible by placing smooth mats in a walkway to the sea. I was then asked to transfer into a reclined chair with fat yellow wheels and was pushed towards the water. Instead of sinking into the sand, the chair glided over the grains, and started to float once we entered the water, making transferring onto a surfboard much easier for me. Now for the fun bit: I was told to move my arms and legs as much as possible to get out into the sea, before turning my body and board to face back towards the shore. A wave came up behind me and carried me back to the sand in a way that felt like flying. It was the most magical experience, and one I never thought I’d be able to achieve.
Not all of us will have the opportunity to head to Rio and visit AdaptSurf, but the good news is that beach wheelchairs are available to buy or hire all over Europe. Most famous beaches now have some form of accessibility equipment, or can provide some if contacted in advance. If you want to buy or hire independently, these are just two sites we have found that may well cater for your needs: https://custombeachwheelchair.com/
Some beaches also have their own accessibility information too, take a look at Great Yarmouth in the UK as an example.
More than anything, it’s great to know that accessibility on the sand and in the waves is now being taken seriously by many. Those of us with disabilities can now accept our love of the beach, and still manage to not get too much sand between our toes! Before you go on your next sun worshipping holiday, remember to enquire about beach wheelchairs at the places you intend to visit; you may well be surprised at what they can offer. And if not, Rio de Janeiro or Great Yarmouth are both yours for the taking! The beach is for all of us, and I for one am looking forward to embracing that. You should too!