Wheeling Enable – The Beach Survival Guide For Wheelies!

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When our wheelchair-bound expert, Rustom Irani, visited the beach after 30 years he didn’t know what to expect. The result? Tanned legs, lost camera and sand-filled shorts. Now he knows better. And to help you avoid the above listed scenarios, he’s here with a list of dos and donts

Just some beach fun and me

Just some beach fun and me

It’s been almost two months since I last visited a beach, had a dip in the sea and lived to tell the tale despite being wheelchair bound, which you can read about here.

However, that tale doesn’t tell you the actual behind-the-scenes prep work and aid required to pull-off such a feat for your’s truly and folk like myself who are completely dependent on their wheelchair for mobility. To be honest, it actually doesn’t tell you all the planning and readiness that was needed, which I didn’t really pay attention to in my eagerness to visit a beach after 30 years or go for my first ocean swim, ever.

The result of ignoring basics? I still have weirdly tanned legs which were horribly sun burnt to begin with, sand in the crevices of my electric wheelchair which occasionally seem to multiply and cause issues, multiple scars from scratches and the occasional glug-glug sound in my ear, which could just mean I drink loudly or my ears are now mutated sea-shells.

The “survival” in the title above obviously doesn’t mean fending off sharks and being bombarded by a tsunami, but when you’re lucky enough to earn access to a location not at all conducive for yourself or your wheelchair, you have to make the most of it sans regrets to ensure that others who follow can make it a habit. And pretty soon you have a guaranteed community of beach bums who happen to be part of the wheelchair tribe. How cool is that?!

These tips are in a particular progressive order and not written in stone, so basis what you end up doing while at the beach you can jump to the relevant information.

Finally, in no way is this a complete “MUST DO” list, so add your points, correct me, and wheeling ladies…please share your beach tips for the lovely lassies wanting to visit the waves and the sand.

Enough babble, here we go:

Changing Room? What Changing Room?

Thaaat’s right!

If you’re completely immobile and need enough private enclosed space to get into your beach clothes, tough luck.

Do what I did. Arrive in your beach-wear. You can disguise it cleverly of course. I wore a large Hawaiian shirt over my inner vest, a pair of rubber sandals and slightly long swim trunks which doubled as regular shorts. I’m not a speedo guy, but those who are, heck shorts over speedos will do the trick.

Hawaiian shirt for the rescue!!

Hawaiian shirt to the rescue!!

As long as the outer clothes are really loose-fitting, you should be fine, and once you’re done playing in the water and sand, dry out and pop the outerwear back over the beach wear and you’re good to go till you can shower and change comfortably.

Empty your pockets, wear cotton (less fancier the better), and never, never ever forget to triple check the strings holding up your trunks. Just saying, since water + gravity = wardrobe malfunctions of the epic kind.

Beach Now, Eat Later!

You’ll be facing blowing sand, briny waters, the hot sun and not to mention a few transfers by being lifted from your chair to the sand or amphibian wheelchair. Not good to add queasiness to the mix. Avoid eating before you do all the physical activities, then relax with your num-nums or drinks as you dry-off in the shade. Throwing up also seriously hurts your macho quotient. Plus the appetite you build-up will do full justice to a scrumptious brunch.

The Sun Loves You…

…and will smother you with fiery hot kisses on every exposed part of your body. Oil-up dear reader, oil up well.

Since most of us wheelchair folk are predominantly indoorsy types, even a bit of sun is like ants drawn to sugar. A great source of vitamin-D, but when you go from pink to red and then ochre without giving a damn, take it from me, the next few days are going to be hellish agony. Every stitch of clothing, direct skin contact and even getting wet will help rid you of 80% of your past sins.

Sun-protection! DO IT!

Damn You, Sand!

It’ll go in your ears, in your pockets, inside your shorts, between your toes, in your hair, but the one place you don’t want it to mess up is your only means of moving around, your good ole’ wheelchair. Power-wheelchairs are of course more susceptible due to electronic circuitry and gear-driven motors. Park afar if you can, preferably on hard-packed sand, never get it wet in salt-water and don’t leave it under the hot sun for hours.

Wheelchair and sand, not a good combination! Park faaar away from the beach

Wheelchair and sand, not a good combination! Park faaar away from the beach

When you’re ready to leave, remember that you’re now sandy and will transfer this to your chair, so cover all areas with a large towel or tarp and then tuck it all in away from the wheels before you sit. This makes cleaning up your chair easy and also avoids major technical malfunctions.

There’s no avoiding sand, in fact it’s therapeutic, fun and very relaxing, just ensure you leave most of it behind, because away from the beach, it’s a devilish entity.

Sea-Backing, Not Sea-Facing!

The last thing you want while gently entering the sea is to be slapped in the face, eyes getting stung, clogged nostrils, flailing arms and the inability to utter a sound. Well, if you go in facing the waves, this or at least some of these things are bound to happen. Also, in all probability you have helpers leading you in, so let them navigate. Keep your back to the waves, arms at your sides and time your breath as you enjoy the weightlessness and gentle rocking.

Pro tip: Keep your back to the waves

That Icky Sticky Feeling!

You know the one when the sea-water dries over your skin, hair in clumps, and you just wish to rinse off before you actually can take a shower? Well, in a pinch, a trusty bucket and pail will do the job, getting most of the dried grime, sea-water and sand off your body so you don’t have to spend ages in the bathroom later, scrubbing away gunk.


So, while we constantly try and improve beach experiences for you, these basics from your end will ensure that you make the most of your time in the sun, sand and water into a life-affirming and pleasurable experience. So get a tan dear reader and catch those waves.

Enable Travel aims to make travel accessible for all. So if you dream of a beach holiday, we say you #CanDo! Visit enabletravel.com or call 1800 266 8002

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Rustom Irani

Founder and Creative Head of MoniePlant Productions, Rustom Irani was confined to a wheelchair after a motorbike accident at age nine. Despite this disadvantage, he has travelled across four continents and believes that a vacation is something to look forward to rather than something that you need to avoid. In keeping with this spirit, Rustom is dedicated to offering solutions and making travel more accessible for disabled travellers.

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