There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a coastal breeze on your skin. But the sense of freedom and joy that a day at the beach can inspire isn’t equally accessible to everyone.
For wheelchair users, beaches can present challenges—from crossing sandy patches to easily entering the water—that can quickly turn a fun experience into a logistical headache. Fortunately, the number of accessible beaches in the U.S. (and worldwide) is growing rapidly each year. Destinations like Panama City Beach, Florida, and Gulf Shores, Alabama, are paving the way with beach access mats that enable wheelchair users to get close to the shore. Meanwhile, other locations like Mission Beach in California, and Hanauma Bay Beach, Hawaii, have made beach wheelchairs (which have thicker tires specifically designed to roll across the sand or enter the water) readily available for free.
Even so, visiting any beach as a wheelchair user can often require a dizzying amount of upfront research and reservations. But with the right equipment, those obstacles become less of a barrier.
We spoke with a few travelers who use wheelchairs, from Canadian travel blogger Tori Hunter to Cory of Curb Free With Cory Lee, about their favorite beach accessories for a day on the sand. Below are some items they swear by—so you can enjoy the sun and sea with ease this summer.
Even if you’re renting or borrowing a beach wheelchair, you’ll likely still want to bring a few personal accessories along to create a more comfortable experience. “Many beach wheelchairs don’t have seatbelts, so I use a long velcro strap to wrap around me and the beach wheelchair,” says Cory Lee, a self-proclaimed beach fanatic and wheelchair user who shares his travel tips on his blog, Curb Free With Cory Lee. “This keeps me securely in the chair while traversing the sand, which can sometimes be quite bumpy. In case the beach wheelchair is too big for me to sit upright easily, I also bring extra towels or pillows to pack beside me in the chair.” Those with limited upper body control might want to look into a padded wheelchair safety belt with an adjustable buckle, which can help prevent falling or sliding out of your seat when rolling across uneven ground.
In addition to bringing extra pillows and towels, Lee always brings his own wheelchair seat cushion to sit on. “It allows me to fully enjoy my time on the beach, as I’m just as comfortable as I am in my regular wheelchair.” On a scorching hot day, a breathable gel memory foam wheelchair seat cushion with strategically placed ventilation holes can help promote airflow while also absorbing the shock of rolling over bumps. Choose one with an anti-slip bottom to ensure your cushion won’t slide around, and a washable cover to allow for easy cleaning after a day outside.
If you’re frequently renting a beach wheelchair at your local beach, you may want to consider buying your own. There are several options on the market, ranging from Virginia Beach’s Sand Rider ($2,380), which can be customized in a range of colors (and offers financing) to Box Wheelchairs’ Beach Bomber Wheelchair ($4,900), which enables manual wheelchair users to push themselves independently through the sand. “I personally like the ones that have flotation devices on the armrests, so you can actually take them right in the water with you,” says Tori Hunter, a wheelchair user who chronicles her travels on her blog. As far as amphibious wheelchairs go, the DeBug EZ Roller Submersible Beach Wheelchair (prices start at $2,700) is one of the more sophisticated options thanks to its articulating front wheel, which makes turning easier, and added pontoons that enable the wheelchair to float in the surf. The stainless steel frame is durable enough to withstand salt and sand, and the weather-resistant outdoor mesh fabric, swing-away armrests, umbrella mount, and cup holders are just some of its premium features.
Refreshments like water and snacks are essential for any beach day, and for wheelchair users, it’s far more convenient to have food and drinks on hand than to track down a beach bar. “It’s not easy to get up and go grab these things once I am set up in the sand,” says Hunter. Among her must-haves is a bag that’s sleek but also big enough to carry her snacks, sunscreen, and a good book. A multitasking option, this wheelchair backpack includes an insulated compartment, a 30-ounce cup holder, and two cardholders among its multiple pockets.
As an alternative to a giant beach umbrella, a shade canopy that clamps onto your wheelchair can eliminate the hassle of having to set up an umbrella in the sand. “My parasol is one of my favorite items to take to the beach as it's easy to clip on and means I can move around in my wheelchair but still have sun protection and keep cool if too hot,” says Emma Muldoon, a wheelchair user and the founder of Simply Emma, an accessibility and travel blog. The four-way swiveling Versa-Bella offers UPF 50 plus protection and folds into a compact carrying case, allowing it to be easily stowed away when not in use.
Wheelchair conversion kit
Those looking for a more portable and budget-friendly alternative to a beach wheelchair might find that the WheelEEZ conversion kit is an ideal solution. The kit turns almost any standard wheelchair into an all-terrain wheelchair and comes with two low-pressure balloon wheels, an axle, brackets, and hardware kit—allowing wheelchair users to switch out their normal wheels when they want to traverse the shoreline. For full-time power wheelchair user Muldoon, it has opened up the possibility of visiting more off-the-beaten-path beaches in her own wheelchair with her family. “It enables us to go to the beach wherever and whenever we want now, which is life-changing after being restricted for so many years,” she says. “Rolling along and feeling the sea splashing on my legs is amazing. It’s simple—yet something many people take for granted.”