As the founder of Ocean Cure, Kevin Murphy is committed to making sure that people with physical disabilities enjoy the beach.
For the nonprofit group, Carolina Beach is a great place for visitors with disabilities, thanks to organizations like Life Rolls On – a Los Angeles-based organization founded by the paraplegic Jesse Billauer so that anyone with paralysis can enjoy surfing. Murphy said Carolina Beach is now home to the most accessible beach on the east coast with 3,000 square feet of wheelchair-accessible mats. He added that dealing with officials, permits and regulations to get the job done is not an easy task.
“We have something that no one else on the east coast has,” said Murphy, a surf instructor. “We have a walk-on mat that actually runs parallel to the sea.”
It is one of many services available on beaches in the Wilmington area. Carolina Beach also offers an accessible boardwalk and 10 beach wheelchairs are available in the recreation center. Another 10 will be provided by Ocean Cure.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Murphy said. “I get messages and calls every day from people from all over the country, sometimes overseas, from all over the world, who just stay in Carolina Beach because of the boardwalk and the beach mat that is outside.”
The mats also provide convenience for visitors who wish to stay in their own wheelchair rather than using one provided on the beach.
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Ocean Cure hosted a surfing event for Life Rolls On in Carolina Beach for the disabled for many years. The event took a break in 2020 due to COVID-19, but is slated to return on August 7th. Billauer started Life Rolls On after he had an accident that broke his sixth vertebra. At that time he was one of the top 100 young surfers in the world and was about to become a professional.
“I’ve met a lot of people in wheelchairs and one of the things that really opened my eyes was how inaccessible the sand and beach are,” Murphy said.
Life Rolls On donated the first part of the mats before Ocean Cure installed the rest.
“We wanted to make it bigger and better,” Murphy said.
Beach access for everyone
At Kure Beach, Recreation Director Nikki Keely said officials are working hard to ensure that services, programs and activities are accessible to all through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Access to our services, programs and activities is important because it’s right – everyone deserves access,” said Keely.
There are currently five beach access points with crossover ramps that are fully ADA compliant. Barrier-free parking spaces are available at all beach entrances. The Kure Beach Boardwalk and Ocean Front Park are both accessible and have front-row views of the ocean. A small fleet of beach wheelchairs donated by the charitable island women can be reserved free of charge for up to one week at a time.
Keely also reported that the Kure Beach Bike / Ped Committee is working with the Wilmington Urban Area MPO to develop a comprehensive master plan for bicycles and pedestrians to highlight areas of future growth and needs in terms of bicycle and pedestrian traffic through and across the city.
“We strongly encourage people to get involved in the public input process during plan development,” she said. “The schedule has not yet been set, but we expect these meetings to take place in September.”
Similar beach wheelchair, parking, and access point services are also available in cities across Brunswick County.
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The town of Topsail Beach in Pender County has three access points with accessible ramps to the north, center, and south of the city. Beach mats are provided at these locations to cross the dune area to reach the shallow part of the beach. Three police beach wheelchairs are also available.
“I know how much I love going to the beach,” said town manager Michael Rose. “If this helps, we will be happy and excited to do so.”
Rose said the city will work to make further improvements, such as upgrading a disabled parking space by replacing gravel with concrete. Rose thinks it’s important to be accessible to everyone.
“These are public trust beaches, so we definitely want people to come and enjoy the beach and not be restricted by access difficulties,” said Rose.
In nearby Surf City, a new beach wheelchair sponsorship program was announced in the spring to increase the total. So far the city has raised $ 12,000. There are six access points for visitors coming to the beach. Parks & Recreation Director Chad Merritt said the wheelchair program worked well for the community and its visitors.
Due to environmental factors such as high tide and sea turtles, mats present a challenge.
“The mats are not feasible for us, not because of the flood,” said Merritt. “The beach wheelchairs allow people to go as far as you can push them. The mats only allow you to go as far as the mats go. For us you are a little more mobile and enable people to explore more on the beach, right down to the beach wheelchairs. “
To improve services, the city plans to upgrade ramps and other ADA-related sections. Surf City is also in the process of installing an ADA kayak and canoe launch dock so someone can transfer from a wheelchair to enjoy the waterways.
“We just keep doing whatever is efficient for our city,” said Merritt.