CAROLINA BEACH — Carolina Beach wants to make sure everyone can enjoy its beach, so this year the town has expanded its existing beach wheelchair fleet to include something new to the town: a wheelchair that can float in the water.
“We wanted to make sure we have a variety of wheelchairs available to our visitors,” said the town’s Parks and Recreation Director Eric Jelinski. “As soon as we saw it at a demonstration, I and everyone else immediately realized that this would be a good addition to our fleet.”
Unlike the other chairs the town currently offers, which are made of PVC pipes and are as high up as lawn chairs, the WaterWheel is made from stainless steel and sits low to the ground, much like a traditional beach chair. It is equipped with flotation devices on either side and can recline back.
“It’s sturdier than the other ones we have and actually pretty comfortable,” Jelinski said. “This allows someone who is in a wheelchair but a little more active to get into the water on a day when it’s calm.”
According to Jelinski, these are also the same chairs that are used by Life Rolls On, an organization that puts together adaptive surfing and skateboarding events for wheelchair athletes across the country, including in Carolina Beach (their event is set for June 12 this year).
“This is the ideal chair to transport someone from a wheelchair to a surfboard,” Jelinski said. “I believe locally we are the only beach town that has them (for public use), although they are popular in other areas, and some people bring their own.”
The WaterWheel is housed at the town’s Park and Recreations Center behind Town Hall on Lake Park Boulevard along with one of the town’s other regular beach wheelchairs. It will be available to visitors by reservation only from Memorial Day to Labor Day for a maximum of four days.
“It’s already picking up steam,” said Jelinski, adding they have not done a lot of media advertising yet to let people know it’s available. “People are already starting to reserve it.”
The town’s five other regular beach wheelchairs will be stored under different lifeguard stands during the tourist season and will be available on a first come, first served basis through a Carolina Beach lifeguard. This is a change from previous years, when people had to pick up the wheelchair from the rec center and bring it to the beach themselves.
“We had an issue with transporting the large wheelchairs made of PVC,” Jelinski said. “They can’t fold down, so you really need a big van or pick-up truck to take them.”
The majority of the beach wheelchairs the town currently has were donated by local non-profit Island Women, but the WaterWheel, which typically costs around $1,800, was paid for using funds from the Parks and Recreation Department’s operating budget. Jelinski said he is already looking into getting more for future seasons.
All the beach wheelchairs are available free to the public. Find more information about Carolina Beach’s beach wheelchairs on the town’s website. To reserve the WaterWheel, call Carolina Beach Parks and Recreation at (910) 458-2977.