A San Diego entrepreneur is developing a solution to help adaptive surfers and other outdoors enthusiasts navigate bumpy surfaces, where wheelchairs often sink. Kelly Twichel, an occupational therapist, founded Access Trax last February. The company makes portable surfaces that can be unfolded across the sand, allowing wheelchairs and strollers to reach the hard-packed sand near the ocean.
“The ultimate goal is to have that independence,” Twichel said. “Think of a person who just had a spinal cord injury and they were a surfer for 20 years. All of a sudden, they’re being told by just the barriers in the environment that now you can’t get there (to the ocean).”
Twichel came up with the idea for her company while studying occupational therapy at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in San Marcos. A professor there challenged her and her co-founder, Eric Packard, to build a device that could help adaptive surfers.
“The opportunity, once it presented itself, I did not hesitate for a second,” she said. “It is so motivating to know that I can help change people’s lives, which is what I set out to do as a therapist, but instead of one client at a time, now, I can help many more people at once.”
Currently, there aren’t many options for wheelchair users to cross the sand independently. Roughly nine beaches in San Diego have existing beach mat pathways, but they require daily maintenance and can’t extend beyond the high tide mark. Beach wheelchairs can be rented, but they’re bulky and heavy, so another person is needed to help push the chair. Other specialized wheelchairs cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Twichel and Packard fashioned their first prototype by connecting aluminum rain gutter covers with zip ties, making a track for wheelchairs to cross the sand. Though it was a little rough around the edges, they tested it at a surf event that included competition between five adaptive surfers. It worked.
“The surfers were asking, where’s the rest of this? We need more of these in our lives,” Twichel said. “At that moment, the very first time we tried it out, we knew we had something that could change people’s lives and help them be more independent.”
Since then, Twichel has developed a more polished product, Beach Trax, that consists of connected foldable plastic panels with a carrying handle. She partners with a local manufacturer to produce them. They sell in sets of 10 connected panels for $650, and Twichel also offers them for rent to vacationers in San Diego.