There is nothing worse than not being able to access your own local beach. When our son had his wheelchair upgraded to a heavy tilt-in-space manual, we suddenly found the beach completely inaccessible. As a family, we would either have to avoid the beach entirely or one of us would sit with our Finlay on a bench to keep him company. It was no easy feat looking out to everyone enjoying themselves and cooling off for a swim in the sea.
“The whole family is impacted when one member is denied access.”
I am passionate about inclusion and will hunt high and low to find a way to make something happen. The solution to our problem was to find a chair that we could wheel from our house along the pavements to access the beach and sea. That access need was solved by the Hippocampe or Sea Horse when translated into English.
People are always approaching us to find out where we sourced our son’s Hippocampe, how we funded it and if we had to adapt it at all.
Every person’s needs are different so it’s hard to find a solution that ticks everyone’s box. Specialised equipment costs the earth and if we are having to find the funds ourselves it is challenging. This is particularly hard when we have to factor in the growth and postural changes of a growing child or a condition that is progressive.
For our son we have three big challenges to overcome in a seating system:-
- Supporting his athetoid posture to enable him to sit in a seat without sliding or simply falling out.
- Equipment that can facilitate easy transfers for a non-weight bearer.
- Fitting the criteria for Government Funding which is always a challenge.
Our little story
We imported the Hippocampe All-terrain Wheelchair directly from Vipamat in France back in 2015. The factory is only approximately an hour’s drive from where our family live in Brittany, France. My sister, speaking fluent French, was the ideal person to sort out the order for us. For a brief few weeks, we had the romantic idea that we could become an importer into New Zealand. It would give me an excuse to go home more and catch up with family. However, it didn’t take long before the Australian distributor caught wind that someone in New Zealand was asking questions about importing them. The Australian agent quickly contacted the Hippocampe factory in France and won the exclusive rights to import for the whole of Australasia.
Oh well, we naively lost out on that business opportunity but at least we do now have a New Zealand distributor working on behalf of our Aussie neighbours called Beachwheels NZ.
Having a New Zealand distributor brings a real bonus as potential customers are now able to trial the product before they purchase. Trialling is crucial and we often need ‘letter’s of support’ from qualified therapists if we are needing it funded. How can that occur if we don’t have one in the country to trial?
Writes Mike Cann from Beachwheels NZ
“I have a real passion for the sea and obsessed with all types of watersports. Over 10 years ago a great friend of mine who runs a business called Beachwheels Australia invited me to start up a similar business in NZ distributing Wheeleez balloon wheels and products. At the time beach wheelchairs were a rare sight and when I was approached to start distributing the Hippocampe Beach Wheelchair I jumped at the chance. It was such a cool looking chair and so practical.
The best part of running Beachwheels NZ is all the smiles we see when we get people either back onto the beach after many years or helping people who have never been able to get there before. I couldn’t be happier working in such a rewarding business and associating myself with such amazing people”
Why we chose the Hippocampe as our Beach Wheelchair
- Firstly, the overall look of the chair is so cool, we get lots of admiring looks and we seem to be approached a whole lot more when using it. Wheelchairs can often have that ‘medical’ look but this chair looks like you are out to have fun!
- It is light, transportable and folds snugly into a handy travel bag.
- It has a multi-purpose use depending on the wheels you purchase. We have the double-mountain bike tyres at the back and a balloon tyre on the front.
- We are able to wheel it from our house to the beach and into the sea.
- An independent user can self-propel it if need be and take it for a swim on their own.
- It can be used to access a ramped swimming pool.
- Skiing accessories are available.
- Better off-road than a standard wheelchair.
- Fully waterproof.
Did we need to adapt it?
Yes, we did! We found a wedge that we velcroed onto the existing seat to help with any pressure sores. We, unfortunately, learnt the hard way on a very short journey out that the hardness of the existing seat was too much for our son’s boney behind. We then purchased a Rifton Butterfly Pelvic Harness Belt to support his pelvic extensor thrust – shock horror it was over $NZ300, but it’s been a life-saver as it doubles up as our ‘go-to’ belt for any air travel. But, best of all it actually keeps him sitting upright and on a chair.
We also used ‘bit’s and pieces’ like foot huggers, straps and velcro. We had these items stored away from past equipment that he had already outgrown. It’s amazing how much we can accumulate over the years, you never know when something can come in handy to adapt another bit of equipment.
An Alternative Customised Seating Option
Beachwheels NZ also sells the Stabilo Posture Cushions that can provide more support for a user if needed.
How we funded it
Firstly, we knew we had to raise up to NZ$7,000 to not only purchase it from Vipamat France but to get it freighted and processed through customs. So although the cost was just short of NZ$6,000 approximately we still had to pay for all the extra’s to get it here.
My sister, in France, was keen to do a fun-run to raise funds and we were going to follow suit in New Zealand. Family and friends who were scattered all around the world wanted to chip in. It was decided that we should start a Give-a-Little Page. We did this just before Christmas and were absolutely blown away that within a week we had raised the money needed to purchase it. Our local community, friends and family were amazing and Finlay was able to get his all-terrain beach wheelchair in time for Summer!
“It arrived on a particularly hot day in a big cardboard box!”I have to say it took me a while to work out how to put it together, so I handed the job to someone more practical, Finlay’s Dad.
Where has it taken us so far?
For the last 4 years, all over! Locally it has allowed us to take our son up to the top of our local volcanoes! Not active or particularly big ones, but volcanoes all the same, Mt Victoria and North Head in Devonport, Auckland.
We can access all our local beaches and even some of the more uneven tracks around. Because of the lightness of the chair, it makes it a lot easier to push up hills. Finlay finds it a softer ride too, less shaking and rattling which he gets when we try and off-road in his manual tilt-in-space wheelchair. We seldom lose screws too which is an added bonus, although the headrest on the Hippocampe will sometimes need adjusting – a minor issue in the big scheme of things. We tend to have to keep checking that the attachment is tight. Another plus is the fact we’ve never had a puncture! Hopefully, we haven’t jinxed ourselves making that comment. The front balloon tyre has also faired very well on pavements, gravel, rocks and sand.
A couple of years back we did a road trip down to the South Island and took the Hippocampe onto the Otago Rail Trail in parts and then camping in Nelson. We are looking forward to returning during the Winter season to access the ski-fields and the frozen lakes that transform into ice rinks.
Last year it faired very well in Fiji, allowing our son to access the pool and the beaches. We found it very useful for taking an outdoor shower in! And with the help of the friendly locals, we hauled it onto a local Bula Bus with Finlay in it!
We’ve even had it in the water and it floats rather well. Because we don’t have all the balloon wheels a person needs to support it from behind. This isn’t too difficult to do at all although we’ve only tried in calm waters.
ACC Clients are generally able to receive funding for the Hippocampe All-Terrain Wheelchair!