A new breed of transport is helping chair users take back the beach. The only problem is, there are so many sand-friendly wheelchairs, you might have a hard time choosing among them.
Deciding factors include your size and weight, and whether you want to push yourself or have someone push you from behind. Here’s a look at some of the most popular manufacturers.
The Landeez, made by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Natural Access, is made of lightweight stainless steel tubing with a mirrored finish to reduce overheating, and removable, washable nylon upholstery. Its soft, plastic, pneumatic wheels roll gently over sand — and a variety of other uneven surfaces.
Nancy from Cincinnati tried one on a recent trip to the South Carolina coast, and reviewed it on the USA TechGuide website. She found the lightweight four-wheeler “easy to push on soft sand,” and though the seat was a little too narrow, a cushion proved an easy remedy. Six hours of problem-free beach cruising convinced her to buy one when she got home.
The standard model requires someone to push from behind, but the wheels can be switched out for a set with push rims for those who’d prefer to self-propel. There’s also a wide variety of seating systems available.
Besides an optional high back, head support, lateral support, and other accoutrements, the Landeez’s single footrest can be adjusted in angle and height, and both armrests can flip up for easy transfers. A seat belt and brakes are standard. Other options include extra padding on the armrests and an umbrella sunshade.
The chair, which can support passengers up to 550 pounds, can be taken apart and folded into a carry bag. Retailing for about $3,000, it comes with a five-year guarantee on the frame and a two-year guarantee on the seating and wheels. Natural Access founder John Egan says some of the original chairs are still in use after 20 years.
Less expensive, with prices starting at $2,250, is Deming Designs’ De-Bug. It, too, has four fat “bubble” wheels and a stainless steel frame. It must be pushed from behind, but it offers reclining and tilt seating (at an extra cost, of course). “We are versatile,” says Karen Deming, co-owner of Deming Designs, in Pensacola, Fla. “We do standardized chairs and made-to-order.”
De-Bug’s armrests are both removable and swing-away. The single footrest can be lengthened or shortened. An umbrella can be attached.
“My wife can now enjoy nearly three miles of prairie trails through moderately hilly terrain,” says Don, a caregiver in Beatrice, Neb. He praises the chair’s “soft ride” and the fact that it’s “easy to push.” When he and his wife travel, he says, they often ask resorts and parks if they have a De-Bug.
The chair has a weight limit of 300 pounds and can be folded for easy travel. It weighs about 50 pounds with wheels, 15 pounds without. It comes with a whopping 10-year warranty — two years on the tires. In business since 1996, Deming Designs rents and sells through a nationwide network of dealers.
A three-wheeled beach chair from France is also gaining fans for its combination of function and style. Vipamat’s Hippocampe stands out for several reasons. First, self-propelling wheels are standard. Second, it floats, so users can roll out into the surf and then swim away from the chair. Finally, its single front wheel can be converted to a ski, turning this beach chair into a snow chair.
“The idea is all-terrain independence,” affirms Bruno Tateossian, managing director of the manufacturer’s North America division, in Houston.
Its sleek design has also been known to inspire an “ooh-la-la” from admirers. Built of lightweight aluminum with a neoprene cover, the Hippocampe is soft, and heat- and weather-resistant.
Tateossian acknowledges, however, that the Hippocampe was originally designed for those with muscular upper bodies. It can be a struggle for those with less strength, and difficult to push from behind. A new push bar is in the works, and the company recently started offering alternative wheels, similar to those on competitors’ chairs, which will make it easier to be pushed but impossible to self-push.
The Hippocampe starts at $2,900 and comes with a one-year warranty. It can hold up to 285 pounds but does not offer customizable seating systems. It comes in four sizes — from small to extra-long — based on the user’s height. Some users wish it took width into account as well. “It is a very tight fit,” says Joseph, a chair user in New Milford, Pa.
Many accessories are available, although armrests and brakes are considered accessories. As of this writing, no umbrella sunshade is available.
Despite all the bells and whistles each chair offers, they all lack one thing: a motor. But take heart. Hotshot Products of Redondo Beach, Calif., makes a motorized beach chair that converts to an all-terrain power chair with — you guessed it — a simple wheel change.
The Hotshot spins on a dime and can be folded to “fit in the back of a station wagon,” says Hank Weseman, Hotshot’s designer and president. “I’m a quad. I have attendants and I know attendants can be lazy, so I’ve kept it simple.”
With a top speed of 10 miles per hour, it has independently adjustable footrests and fully adjustable armrests. Since 2001, each chair has been built to individual customer specifications and sold directly from the manufacturer.
Starting at $9,899, it’s not cheap. But for those on a budget, the company also sells a beach conversion kit for Invacare and Quickie power chairs, for $3,000. “You can turn your chair into a beach chair in a half-hour — and then back to your own chair,” says Weseman.
Each conversion kit is customized. All you need to do is give Weseman the measurements of your chair. The kit comes with a set of all-terrain wheels and hardware to attach them (the front wheels extend out farther than standard front casters). Your chair will need to be altered slightly — new holes drilled, primarily — which Weseman says a home mechanic can do easily or, if you prefer, you can ship your chair to his factory and he’ll make the adjustments.
After that, swapping out the wheels takes less than 20 minutes.