From the parking lot, the loose sand, the packed sand, the boardwalk, the water itself, to right back into your vehicle, make sure your beach wheelchair can handle it all.
Most wheelchairs do well on concrete, many do well on pavement, some do well on grass or gravel, a few do well on the beach, but almost none can handle everything. So, when it comes to finding a good beach wheelchair, you’ll have to look closely to find one that will help you navigate loose sand, packed sand, ocean water, and trips to the boardwalk, all while being easily transported to and from the beach.
The unfortunate reality is that most wheelchairs aren’t great on the beach. That being said, almost no wheeled device can do everything we want it to at the beach—mountain bikes, strollers, and beach carts are all challenged by some aspect of the beach.
Here, we’ll explore some of the challenges you’ll encounter at the beach. With the right tools and the appropriate preparation, you can make sure your next beach trip is a sun-filled, good-timin’, stress-free success!
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Beach wheelchair challenge #1: Getting there
So you’re headed to the beach—awesome! Unless you’re one of the lucky few living on beachfront property, you’ll likely be traveling by car. No biggie. Just pack your umbrella, your food cooler, your books, your change of clothes, an extra towel or two, toys for the kids, clothes and towels for the kids, a small beverage cooler and—oh no, the wheelchair.
Most wheelchairs that have been built for use on beaches are massive, cumbersome devices that either don’t break down, or do, but require a mechanical engineering degree and a machine shop to disassemble. Any electric wheelchair out there often weighs hundreds of pounds, does not disassemble, and is especially difficult to transport without a lift or trailer. Wheelchairs with “tank-like treads” do well on sand, but transporting them to the shore (or anywhere) is virtually impossible unless you have an expensive trailer in tow.
Wheelchairs on the other side of the spectrum—those that fold very easily—generally offer poor performance on the beach itself. They make it simple to store and transport, but their wheels dive into beach sand quicker than the pointed end of your beach umbrella.
The Freedom Chair difference
Almost all of the Freedom Chair comes apart—in fact, it disassembles so well, it fits in the trunk of a small sedan. The Freedom Chair seat back, footrest, cushion, levers, rear wheels, and front fork can all be removed with nothing more than an Allen key.
Once you’re at the beach, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the Freedom Chair’s big wheels. The standard Freedom Chair comes with 26” rear mountain bike wheels; its front wheel is a pneumatic mountain board wheel. We also offer beach wheels, with wider tires that help you stay above the sand when riding down to your favorite spot. The efficiency of the levers makes it easier to push through the sand, and the addition of trail handles accessory means a friend can give you some extra pushing power from behind if you want it.
If you have a bigger trip in mind and plan to fly with the Freedom Chair, check out this blog for tips on flying with the Freedom Chair!
Beach wheelchair challenge #2: Loose sand
When we think of beach sand, this is the fluffy, white, deep stuff we often picture—and it can be an absolute menace to wheelchairs. After you park your car and cross from the sidewalk into the sand, this is almost always the first kind of sand you’ll encounter.
Unless there’s an accessibility mat that travels the distance between the parking lot and the hard-packed sand near the water (unfortunately, these are rare), there’s only one option: Go through the sand.
Option #1 is to rent a beach wheelchair, which means you have to find the rental location, which means you have to get to the rental location. You also have to make sure you’re at the beach during the rental’ spot’s operating hours—no sooner or later—or else risk getting hit with big fees or ending up stranded without a chair. These chairs can also be expensive and limited in supply.
Option #2 is to tough it out with your regular wheelchair, which usually means being turned around backward and pulled down the beach. Cons: As the rider, you can’t contribute much to the process, and it puts a huge amount of physical strain on the person assisting. This isn’t even to mention the fact that once you get to your spot, you can’t move without being turned around and pulled again (good luck rolling those tiny casters through the sand). Not a particularly ideal situation, if you ask us.
Option #3: GRIT.
The Freedom Chair difference
The Freedom Chair is an all-terrain wheelchair that creates a few loose-sand advantages that other chairs cannot. First and foremost, you and the person assisting you can work together to get to your beach spot. In deep sand, you may rely on each other, but the ergonomic lever motion makes your lever strokes extremely efficient, so you can actually help in getting where you’re going. Trail Handles make it easy for one or two people to help push. The wide beach tires and large-diameter front wheel eat through sand better than other wheelchair tires. Perhaps the best part? The chair is always ready to jump into other terrains—the water, the boardwalk, and the rest are all waiting for you.
The loose sand is the most difficult terrain you can navigate in any wheelchair, so we do recommend bringing a buddy, if possible. If they can provide some pushing power, you can focus on pumping the levers to keep the front wheel nice and high above the sand. Together, you can work through the loose sand and onto the packed sand and water, where the fun really begins.
Beach wheelchair challenge #3: Packed sand and water
Packed sand (e.g., the sand revealed at low tide), is far easier to traverse than the loose, fluffy stuff, but it can still be tough with the wrong equipment. The difficulty of these areas comes in the form of the unknown. Whether you’re in the water or headed toward it, this terrain can leave a regular wheelchair up the creek without a paddle (or any forward momentum).
Shells, rocks, collapsing waves, and the fluctuating consistency of the sand means you have to be ready for anything. It also means you’ll have to stay stable in your chair—stable enough to go deep in the water, throw in a fishing line, or just enjoy the water lapping against you.
The Freedom Chair difference
A true beach wheelchair must be prepared for this exact situation, where—and we say this without hyperbole—the only thing to expect is the unexpected. The Freedom Chair is built to help you roll right over any rocks and shells you come across. The efficiency of your lever strokes in the chair paired with the outright physical advantage of leverage allows you to power forward and add a momentary burst of “umph” when you need it. The chair’s three-wheeled design and balanced weight distribution keep it stable while the waves lap against your tires and the uneven ground shifts around beneath you.
There are no batteries, no electronics, no water-intolerant parts or brittle components that should stop you from immersing yourself in the water. And, the chair is light and efficient enough to give you the option to ride up and down the beach in the packed sand. Bring a friend and search for shells, squeeze in a good workout, or simply coast the waterline to your heart’s content. Cool off by turning toward the water, and then pump your way back up to the street whenever you’re ready—whatever you find yourself doing, enjoy the freedom of not thinking so carefully about your chair.
Beach wheelchair challenge #4: The boardwalk
So, you made it to the beach, fought through the loose sand, rolled over the packed sand, and enjoyed a few dips into the water. It’s time for lunch! Or a beverage. Or maybe you’d like to pick up a souvenir from one of the gift shops along the boardwalk. You’ll need a chair that can get you to the shops, around the boardwalk, and straight to that secret locals-only restaurant you read so much about online.
Made-for-the-beach wheelchairs are large, cumbersome, and often not even allowed off of the sand. So, even after going through the rental process and being pushing a beach wheelchair all day, you may find yourself limited to the sand and water. And—even if you’re able to get up to the boardwalk in one of those chairs—they certainly won’t help out in a restaurant or store.
Boardwalks themselves can be tricky in the same way that cities can be tricky—the terrain is flat, but it is tremendously varied. The main strip of the boardwalk is usually paved, but there can be curbs, and wooden-slat sections, sand and mud on the path, grassy cutoffs, and—perhaps the biggest obstacle of them all—a whole lot of people.
The Freedom Chair difference
First and foremost, no terrain on or around a boardwalk can phase a Freedom Chair. Uneven wooden pier? Deep puddle or overflow? Cobblestone or gravel path to the ice cream spot? Sand blown over the road? Curb to hop? Lip to get into a store? Boardwalk trolley tracks to roll over? Easy—just keep those levers pumping and you’ll have no problem. Throughout it all, take advantage of the Freedom Chair’s tight turning radius to safely and confidently weave your way around other pedestrians.
The aisles in beachfront stores are tight, and unfortunately, some are so far from “ADA compliant” that even able-bodied people struggle to get through them. However, the Freedom Chair can get you into most of these stores—simply remove the levers and use your hands on the wheels to make it easier to move forward and backward in tight spaces. By the time you make it to the storefronts, much of the sand and water will have dripped off of the chair, so you can enter a building without fear of making a mess.
Ready to eat? Wheel right up to the open end of a picnic table, position the Freedom Chair’s front wheel underneath the table, and enjoy a lobster roll!
Beach wheelchair challenge #5: Getting home
All great beach days have to come to an end, and we believe packing up to go home should be quick and easy. After all, you and the people you’re with are probably a bit sunburnt, wind-swept, and shaking out salt from places you’ve never even explored before. It’s time to go home, so let’s do this as quickly as possible.
If you rented a wheelchair from a beach shop, you’ll have to be pushed back to the rental location to drop it off. But first, you’ll likely have to get back to your car to get your manual chair, walker, canes, etc. Maybe make a trip to the bathroom first (can the rental chair make it into the bathroom)? Hopefully the wheelchair rental location is still open, staffed, and there aren’t any issues returning the chair.
The Freedom Chair difference
If you took your Freedom Chair to the beach, getting home is as easy as cleaning the chair off and going! Just like a mountain bike, it’s best to clean the sand and salt off of the chair’s moving parts, but a quick trip to the public shower would get the job done. When you are back home, you can do a more thorough washing with a hose.
Once the chair is rinsed, you can disassemble the Freedom Chair as much or as little as your vehicle requires, pack up the rest of your beach gear, and get on your way home.
Questions? Looking for more info?
The GRIT team wants you to spend less time working out logistics and more time working your way through your favorite beach novel.
We’re here to help answer any questions you have, address doubts or fears lingering on your mind, and find out whether or not the Freedom Chair is a good match for you. While we are proud to be part of the GRIT team, we strive to be candid, honest, and fair in how we discuss our chair in any context, so bring on your questions! Call us at 877-345-4748 now to chat.