HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Virtually every beach requires a walk through the sand for a chance to dip your toes in the ocean.
That walk, however short or long, can be difficult for anyone with a disability that limits their ability to move, or even for a parent with a stroller carrying all the beach essentials. One Huntington Beach local decided to do something to help make it easier for those in wheelchairs and others to get to the water’s edge at his home surf break.
What You Need To Know
- Thanks to the efforts of a local surfer, Huntington Beach now has a mat near the pier to give the people who need it an easier path to the ocean
- The mat was rolled out May 5, 2021
- County Supervisor Katrina Foley said this will be first of several mats in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach
David Gins surfs nearly every morning in Huntington Beach. His go-to spot is 6th and Main, just north of the Huntington Beach pier. Gins surfs not only because he loves it, but also because it’s part of his therapy.
"I suffer from PTSD," he said. "I also have some issues. I struggle with my ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) my whole life since I was a kid, and surfing has helped me coping with that."
Gins added that he loves to help others feel the healing power of the ocean. One day in September 2020, Gins was about to paddle out with his friend Kumaka Jensen, who has spina bifida. Gins noticed something as they reached the end of the circular walkway in front of the 6th street parking lot.
"We got up to the beach, and I didn’t realize his brother had been carrying him every time," Gins said.
It was right where the walkway meets the sand where the gap in access to the beach was made blatantly clear to Gins. He admits he should have noticed earlier, considering his day job.
"I was disappointed in myself that someone who, as a civil engineer, spends a lot of time dealing with ADA and accessibility," he said. "I didn’t notice that my own neighborhood was really, had some deficiencies."
The surfer noted that the experience of carrying Kumaka on his back, 200 yards across the sand, was his “ah-ha” moment.
“I’m not a person to just sit on the sidelines and not take action," he said.
Therefore, Gins used his engineering skills to come up with a concept drawing, proposing some sort of accessible walkway to place over the sand to give an easier path to the ocean to the people who need it. He was even willing to find the funds for the pathway that can cost more than $10,000 — depending on the length of the walkway.
Gins explained how he had planned to talk to the city about it.
"My whole pitch was, 'We will give you the mats. We just need a commitment from the city they will maintain the mats and make sure they didn’t just vanish.'"
All Gins needed was some sort of maintenance agreement from the city because while working full-time, he wouldn't have time to also make sure the mat was kept in good condition. He started calling some city departments.
"I kind of just got the runaround, six different departments," he said. "And then in the end: 'Just go talk to someone else.' It was kind of disappointing, disheartening."
But Gins didn’t give up. He decided to reached out to two city councilmembers via social media and sent video of himself carrying Jensen to the ocean across the sand.
His persistence paid off. Both officials responded. One helped pushed the issue through. The city purchased a mat, and officials rolled out Surf City’s first accessible walkway this month.
The walkway is a portable and removable beach access mat, which Jensen got to use just days after it was installed for a surf session on Saturday. For the first time here in Surf City, the teen got to the water on his own.
"I don’t even have to have any help," he said. "I can just say, 'Dad, let’s go to the beach,' and we can be here in like five minutes."
It was an glide down the mat to paddle out with his friend Gins.
“I can’t believe he (Gins) did this all for me and everyone who can’t access the beach very well," said Kumaka as he approached the end of the mat at the water.
Gins said he was raised to give back.
"People have helped me so much with all my stuff. The least I can do is help others.”
Gins added that nothing should stop Jenson or anyone from getting to the water.
The city plans to roll the mat up every night and roll it back out in the mornings. County Supervisor Katrina Foley said during a press conference on May 5 that she plans to install more mats throughout Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.