Sophie Etheridge on beach accessibility
EXTRA,  FEATURES,  June 2023,  Opinion

Beaches need to be more accessible

Adaptive swimmer Sophie Etheridge explains why everyone needs a dose of Vitamin Sea, but this isn’t always easy for wheelchair users

Film director Robert Altman said this about the sea: “I love fishing. You put that line in the water and you
don’t know what’s on the other end. Your imagination is under there”.

This quote really speaks to me about the mysterious and magical world of the sea. There are so many things I love about swimming in the sea: the relief of the ocean taking my weight after the pain of walking into the water; the freedom of movement; the peace and serenity. All my worries and anxieties slip away. I need my vitamin sea to keep me sane-ish.

Recently, someone asked me what I see when I look at the sea. It took a while for me to put it into words, but this is what I came up with: when I look at the sea I see endless wonder, possibilities and power.

Looking at the ocean, it feels like it goes on forever and that means the adventures and swims that are possible in the sea are limitless too.

However, I also see the power that the sea has and know that on days when it is angry, you don’t swim. As beautiful as it is, it can be dangerous. The cold, the waves, the currents and tides; it’s as if the sea has to allow you to swim.

Living in Cambridgeshire, for me the sea can feel like a world away. Going to the beach feels like a luxury that I must take advantage of, especially now that I am training to swim the English Channel solo. However, getting to the water isn’t always simple, especially as a wheelchair user. It is not getting to the beach that is the problem, it is getting to the sea once at the beach. This was my problem during a recent holiday to Great Yarmouth.

I have faced this issue before but no matter how many times it happens, it doesn’t take away the gut-wrenching feeling of sitting on a prom watching others swimming in the sea but being unable to join them because of your disability.

Things are improving. More places have boardwalks across the beach, but rarely all the way to the water. Others offer beach wheelchairs to hire, but you can only use them if someone pushes you in it, taking away your independence to get in and out of the water when you want to. It’s something that needs drastically improving – everyone deserves the chance to enjoy the beach and sea. Everyone needs a bit of vitamin sea!

To see all the online content from the June 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer, visit the 'Sea' page.

Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.