For wheelchair users who love the beach, sand poses a perennial challenge.
Today, the are quite a few beaches offering some mats or ramps that stretch across the sand, but what can riders do when we prefer to wander? And there are beach wheelchairs, but most have no way to self-propel. While these options are better than sitting in the parking lot, none of them offer full accessibility.
Fortunately, innovators in the adaptive technology industry are busy creating solutions. From a beach chair inspired by a surfboard to ski-like attachments for front casters, these products provide more chances for a wheelchair user to reach the waves.
Andrew Hippert, a C6-7 quad, founded the online healthcare store LivingSpinal.com to help his fellow wheelchair users find logical solutions to wheeling problems. He and his crew tackled the difficulty of pushing through sand and developed Slick Skis, a caster attachment, as an affordable option.
“The Slick Skis make both sand and snow so much easier to navigate by allowing your front caster wheels to sit on top of the surface and glide with ease,” says Hippert. You install these lightweight, plastic paddles by sliding your casters into brackets and then pulling the straps tight to lock them into place. Now, instead of dragging and becoming buried, the front of your chair floats on top of the sand. Also, Slick Skis help to protect your bearings from becoming packed with sand and snow. “This is a big concern when you put your chair in that kind of environment,” he says.
The Slick Skis work best with a companion product, the all-terrain Sumo Beach and Snow Wheels, which are manufactured by Box Wheelchairs for Living Spinal. The 4½-inch-wide tires work with chairs that have a 2-inch axle sleeve, and there are optional super-grip vinyl push rim covers for an easier trip across the sand.
Box Wheelchairs also uses its tires on its own beach wheelchairs. Slick Skis are $149 per pair, and Sumo Beach Wheels are $1,399.
Access Trax co-founders Kelly Twichel and Eric Packard were tasked in their graduate school occupational therapy class with creating a product to improve the everyday lives of their clients. They invented Beach Trax, which are portable, lightweight panels that easily attach to each other to form a stable path on uneven terrain. Because the 3-by-3-feet, 5-pound squares allow for customizable configurations, they are often used by adapted sports organizations and event planners, as well as individual wheelchair users.
Twichel says the portability of the product is ideal for travelers who plan to visit a beach. “You can check it as luggage on an airplane because it’s assistive technology, which is typically free. With panels and a carrying strap, we duct-tape the open end and don’t even use a bag,” she says. “Travelers can rely on it and feel empowered. They don’t have to ask around or be limited to one small spot with an existing mat. They can go where they want to go.”
Dave Foster traveled with five panels of Beach Trax checked as luggage to Costa Rica last November. “They happily checked it all the way from the San Diego check-in counter, free, as an accessibility aid to Liberia, Costa Rica,” he says.
With help from his daughter, who moved the panels as needed, Foster was able to enjoy the beautiful water at Carrillo Beach. “It’s a wonderful innovation for mobility,” he says.
Beach Trax cost $68 per panel and the carrying strap is $29.99. The company now offers panel rentals for events where organizers don’t want to commit to a purchase.
There are over 200 Spartan obstacle races that take place in 42 countries, and the makers of the Freedom Chair partnered with Spartan to become the official equipment of its Para Spartan Race division. The first Para Spartan Elite Heat took place two years ago in in Laughlin, Nevada, where the terrain includes deep desert sand, and the Freedom Chair was put to the test. “The chair performed really well in the toughest of scenarios,” says Alex Guarco, GRIT’s operations manager.
Tyler Rich has raced about 15 Spartans in his Freedom, but values the chair for its other all-terrain capabilities as well. “I’ve used my Freedom Chair on the beach a handful of times, though I live in the mountains of Virginia, so my opportunities are somewhat limited,” he says. “I have used it in the desert extensively, and can say with the utmost certainty that it is vastly superior to a conventional manual chair over sand. It still bogs down to a degree, but the additional torque provided by the drivetrain affords the ability to move without assistance, albeit slowly.”
The way the chair works is a bit different. GRIT developed the product with a mountain bike in mind, and it has a patented lever-drive system designed at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are two handles, pushed by the rider, that are designed to conserve shoulder function and maximize energy for a boost of speed on normal terrain, or to provide more power on challenging surfaces. Equipped with wide mountain bike back wheels and one large, extended front caster, the chair resists sinking in the sand.
Guarco appreciates that the chair is easily transportable. “I have a Toyota Corolla, and it goes in the trunk, no problem,” says Guarco. “There are quick- release axles for the wheels, and the back is also quick release. The front plate slides right off. Everything compacts pretty tightly. That’s one of the problems we were trying to solve when we designed the chair.”
The most popular Freedom Chair model costs $2,995.
The Hippocampe from Vipamat was initially developed so that Patrice Faucogney, a career soldier who became a paraplegic after a snowboarding accident, could independently push himself on beaches and trails in France. Along with a physical therapist and an orthopedic prosthetist, Faucogney designed the self-propellable Hippocampe to be long and sleek like a surfboard.
Bruno Tateossian, managing director for Vipamat in North America, touts the chair’s all-terrain capabilities. “On the beach, you can go right into the water. Someone comfortable enough to get out of it can swim and then get back into it,” he says. “Also, we have a front ski attachment for it to be used on trails, grass and snow. It’s really usable year-round and on all types of terrain. That’s how it’s been designed.”
The Hippocampe’s all-terrain tires have a special outer coating to reduce hand slippage, though a little help from friends might be needed to push the chair in softer sand. The chair comes with colorful blue or pink material that covers metal parts to keep them from becoming hot in the sun, and the foam seat allows for quick drying and no water retention, in case the user decides to swim. For transport purposes, the chair’s backrest folds down, and its wheels and push bar are removable. The Hippocampe weighs around 37 pounds and costs $3,379. It is offered in four sizes based on the user’s height.
WheelEEZ designed its Sandpiper all-terrain beach chair for families with children who use wheelchairs. “The Sandpiper has provided our family with great enjoyment and the freedom to choose whichever beach we like,” says John G. from Huntington, California. “Having our own chair means we know it’s always available and in top shape. Our son loves the comfort and we enjoy the ease of pushing it across soft sand.” See more at wheeleez.com.
• Hippocampe, vipamat.us/hippocampe-beach-and-all-terrain.php
• Beach Trax, accesstraxsd.com
• Freedom Chair, gogrit.us
• Slick Skis, livingspinal.com/active-mobility/slick-skis-the-affordable-caster-attachment-for-snow-and-sand
• Sumo Tires, livingspinal.com/active-mobility/beach-wheelchairs/sumo-beach-and-snow-offroad-wheelchair-tires-24