An innovative beach wheelchair in Waipu is enabling people with disabilities to enjoy beach activities that most other Kiwis take for granted.
The “sand-cruiser” chair uses low pressure “balloon wheels” to make it easier to push across a sand surface. It can also be taken into the water and will float if a rider finds themselves in too deep.
The Waipu Cove Surf Club has an adult and child’s chair, which can be booked and borrowed by the public through Camp Waipu Cove.
The camp has also built a concrete ramp from the club to the beach for ease of access.
Surf club captain Kath Manning says the chairs have been bought using funding from Sport Northland. The club surveyed its members and found that accessibility for all was a priority.
It is hoped that the chairs will allow the club to have all-abilities nipper surf safety classes in the future.
Kath says the chairs are only “slightly harder” to push across challenging beach terrain as a normal wheelchair across a flat concrete surface.
The Waipu club has received enquiries from other surf clubs across the country, including Mangawhai, which is also interested in the chairs.
The sand-cruiser chair is imported by Beachwheels NZ. Director Mike Cann brought them to New Zealand 10 years ago after hearing about them from a friend who was a lifeguard in Australia.
He personally suffered from a tendon injury that prevented him from going to the beach for an extended period of time and got an appreciation for how precious beach access is.
He says the specialised chairs make use of balloon wheels which provide a cushion of air.
“Four-wheel-drive car owners know that when they drive on the beach, they need to let out air to reduce the pressure in their tyres. This works in the same way.”
The balloon wheel technology has also been applied to various innovations, including three “mobile jetties” across Northland, as well as small boat trailers.
Mike says Beachwheels is aiming to get as many chairs on New Zealand beaches as possible. He says they have a lifespan of 15 years and so are great for clubs.