Beaches across the United States are increasingly becoming more and more accessible, so people with disabilities can join in on endless fun in the sand and sea. Look at the annual “They Will Surf Again” event at Virginia Beach in Virginia. This empowering beach day sees hundreds of people (including people of all ages and abilities, volunteers, and families) come together to surf. Adaptive equipment like surfboards and beach transfer wheelchairs are provided to those who need it, while participants bring their own wetsuits and towels. Indeed, since around 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability, it only makes sense that beaches and water sports are now becoming increasingly inclusive for people with limited mobility.  

Key Largo, Florida

Key Largo, a beautiful island in the upper part of the Keys (and closest of the Key islands to the Florida mainland) is famously called the dive capital of the world. And, there are plenty of adaptive diving opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy. Captain Mick’s Water Adventures, for example, was founded by Mick Nealy, a polio survivor at age two, over thirty years ago. This company now provides accessible boating adventures to people with physical and mental disabilities. Available activities include snorkeling and fishing, as well as sightseeing, island hopping, beach parties, and restaurants. Guests can choose their own itineraries depending on their own needs, and, rest assured, the dock and boat are accessible. The boat accommodates six people in total, four of those in wheelchairs, and is also sturdy enough to carry 400-pound motorized wheelchairs. 

Huntington Beach, California

Huntington Beach in Orange County is a seaside city long popular for its epic surfing beaches. And, now, people with disabilities can join in the fun thanks to McKinnon Surf & SUP recently launching their first adaptive surf program. The program features a patented, 15-foot “chair board” made of durable carbon fiber, which is also fitted with a race car driver’s seat. The comfortable seat is cleverly built around three inches down into the board, rather than being positioned right on top. People with disabilities can therefore get in the ocean and have fun riding the waves with complete stability and confidence. Accessible stand-up paddle boards and outrigger surf canoes as long as 14 feet are also available. Adaptive surfing lessons with McKinnon are one-hour long and cost $225 for a tandem with a safety escort, or $300 for a chair board with a safety team. 

Moreover, Huntington Beach itself is also extremely accessible – a wide, paved trail is linked to the ocean via a 150-foot-long access Mobi-mat. Thanks to Mobi-mats, people with disabilities can conveniently access the beach and ocean in their own personal wheelchairs, rather than having to rent a beach wheelchair (although this is certainly also an option). The first two Mobi-mats were installed in 2021, and there are plans to install more in the near future. Indeed, smart accessibility measures in public spaces are key for allowing people with disabilities to enjoy full mobility and independence everywhere they go. Wide pathways are particularly important, so people in wheelchairs have all the space they need to get by – ideally, a width of two meters is recommended for optimal ease of access and comfort. 

Virginia Beach, Virginia 

Virginia Beach in Virginia has been specifically designed with accessibility in mind – in fact, it’s often referred to as one of the most accessible beaches in the country. Beach wheelchairs and Mobi-mats are available to rent on a first-come, first-serve basis completely free of charge – you’ll find wheelchair rentals on 17th and 24th streets, as well as wheelchair access at every street along the boardwalk. Vehicles with placards or plates indicating disability also qualify for free parking for up to four hours in any metered spot. Moreover, children with autism and their families can attend the annual Surfers Healing Virginia Beach Camp organized by the Surfers Healing Foundation Team. This event has been running for sixteen years and is free to attend (just be sure to register first). Surfers Healing was founded by parents Israel and Danielle Paskowitz after their three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, so participants are in good hands. Surfboards, leashes, and life vests are provided on-site.  

People with disabilities have the right to enjoy beach days and water sports just like anyone else. Key Largo, Huntington Beach, and Virginia Beach are some of the best accessible spots in the United States for water sports enthusiasts of all abilities.

Contribution from freelance writer, Nina Graham. To write for the GRIT Blog, contact our team at