In Accessible Transportation, Accessible Travel, News & Blog, Peer Profiles

SCI BC peer, Emma Kivisild, discovered a great beach wheelchair rental opportunity from Tourism Tofino and shares her summer story on the beach. Keep scrolling down below to read her positive accessible holiday experience!

My friends have a vacation house on Chesterman Beach, between Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park, and I was fortunate enough to vacation there for years, but stairs meant I haven’t been able to go for a while. This year, they installed a ramp for wheelchairs and I’m back!

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The beaches on the West Cost of Vancouver Island have been pounded by the ocean for millennia. They’re very flat, and near the water the sand is compact and hard, good enough to support a wheelchair, or even a walker. The problem is getting to the flat part of the beach in a wheelchair. It can be impossible. Surfers run nimbly down rocky paths and across soft sand to the waves, but as a wheelchair user, you can only look on.

Before my friends and I went to Chesterman Beach this year, we read about beach wheelchairs, which are available at Jericho Beach in Vancouver, and in Hawaii, and we thought maybe Pacific Rim National Park had them? After all, the park has more sandy beaches than anywhere else in BC. Just before embarking on our holiday we called Tourism Tofino and as luck would have it, bizarrely they had two newly arrived (still in the box,) Sand Rider beach wheelchairs!

Enter the beach wheelchair. It comes in a box and can be easily and quickly assembled into a long, low slung chair with three big wheels. You definitely need help transferring from your wheelchair onto the Sand Rider (those wheels get in the way), but once you are seated, any able-bodied friend can push you over rocks and roots and loose sand to the ocean. I was too glad to be a guinea pig and take the Sand Rider for its inaugural run. There is no charge and once release forms were signed and deposits deposited, we were off.

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First destination was “Frank’s Island“, the famous tombolo in the middle of Chesterman beach. I was wheeled along the huge beach, skirting the waves, making sure that we didn’t get salt water into the chair’s mechanism (one of the rules). My friends and I played a game of beach bocce (lawn bowling on the beach), ran with the dogs and looked at the amazing patterns in the sand. You need to be pushed in this chair (it’s not play-alone fun) and there is absolutely no steering, but that comes into play less than you think on such a giant beach. No tight corners. Chesterman Beach is giant, it’s 2.7 kilometres long, so a round trip is more than 5 kilometres of wheelchair beach fun.

Everyday I gazed at the beautiful vista, watched the surfers riding the waves (or attempting to). A fishing boat went by. The tide came in and the tide went out. It was sunny! It was great! What a summer vacation.

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After nearly a week I had to return the beach chair so the next person could use it. I was sad to see it go, but there are plenty of other things to do. For instance, the beautiful aquarium in Ucluelet, wonderful restaurants in Tofino, a most delicious bakery and a pretty great book store. You don’t need a beach chair for any of them.

Looking back (and looking forward) I would like to make sure I have a beach chair when I go to the beach. Maybe Tourism Tofino will get a whole bunch so more of us can share. How hard is it to get the extra fat tires? Maybe I can get some for my own wheelchair. I’ll think about that over the winter when I’m looking at the pictures of my holiday.

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