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New things under the sun Beach-friendly wheelchairs are among this year's tide of innovations


Faithful Ocean City visitors already know their favorite haunts. These familiar shops and restaurants are like old friends that they can't wait to visit during vacation. But each season, new amenities, attractions and businesses show up, banking on becoming the next old favorite.

This year, for instance, you'll find surf chairs for the disabled, an indoor miniature golf course and an Eastern Shore beer among the new kids on the block.

Surf chairs

For the first time in Ocean City, those who use wheelchairs will be able to get close to the ocean with specially designed chairs, called surf chairs.

The town of Ocean City purchased nine beach wheelchairs that will be available free of charge to visitors.

They look like plastic deck chairs on large balloon-like wheels that allow the chairs to roll on the sand. "It's a stable chair that will work on the beach," says Laura Gulyas, chairwoman for the Ocean City Mayor's Advisory Committee on Americans with Disabilities.

The chairs, assigned on a first-come basis, will be available around Memorial Day at handicapped beach access locations at the inlet, 25th Street, 40th Street, 89th Street and 130th Street. They cannot be operated independently, though, so patrons should come to the beach with a companion.

In addition, surf chairs will be available at the Carousel Hotel and Castle in the Sand for use by hotel guests, and a chair will be shared by the Satellite and the Surf and Sands Hotel.

Stedman Smith Jr. of Ocean City, who is a paraplegic, got to test a surf chair recently. "This is as close to the beach as I've been in 25 or 30 years," said Mr. Smith, who is a marketing consultant and also serves as chairman for the Lower Easter Shore Committee to Hire People With Disabilities.

The only difficulty Mr. Smith had was getting into the chair. Because of the large balloon tires, he couldn't get his own chair close enough to slide into the new chair. "If it had a transfer board, I could get in," Mr. Smith said.

The chair was developed three years ago by Michael Hensler, a Daytona Beach, Fla., lifeguard who saw the problems people in wheelchairs faced at the beach. "They sink into the sand and it becomes precarious at best," he said.

People with disabilities are not the only beneficiaries of the chair. Mr. Hesler said the chair is also used by the elderly who have difficulty walking in the sand and people recuperating from surgery.

Indoor golf

When it rains at the beach, many people head for Coastal Highway, looking for indoor entertainment. Now miniature golf fans will be able to play in any kind of weather when Old Pro Golf opens its 12,000-square foot indoor course at 68th Street. The course is scheduled to open by Memorial Day weekend.

It will have an underwater theme, said Old Pro president Herbert Schoellkopf. "It's going to simulate playing golf on the bottom of the ocean," he said. The course will include a submarine, a shipwreck and a 17-foot killer whale.

The course has been a family project for Mr. Schoellkopf. His son, Jeffrey, an architect, designed the building; Jeffrey's wife, Sally, is painting a mural; son, Richard, is general manager and his wife, Rene, is secretary; and son, Scott, is involved with the construction.


* Fans of WMAR-TV weekend weatherman Don O'Brien will be able to catch his act from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays this summer on OC-104 FM (103.9). Mr. O'Brien, who was once half of "The Brian & O'Brien Show" on B104-FM in Baltimore, will still do the weekend weather reports for Channel 2 in Baltimore.

"I'm doing the same old thing. I haven't changed my act," said Mr. O'Brien, adding he's "looking forward to being a beach bum during the week."

* There's a new nightspot on 68th Street. The Bayside Beach Club, which recently opened, features music, bright lights and a large dance floor.

It will play techno and club music, said owner Alan Chadsey. Also, "We are bringing disco back to the beach," he said. "It's swept the West Coast, and we are bringing it to the beach."


* If you want to take home some souvenir ribs, J/R's is the place to go. The restaurant is fast-freezing fully cooked ribs and including instructions for cooking in home microwaves, ovens or grills. For an added fee, it will also provide insulated coolers for the ribs.

"We've been experimenting with it for two years," said Jack Hubberman, a partner in J/R's.

* Phillips Crab House, which has been dishing out seafood in Ocean City since 1956, is also trying out a new venture. It is converting the second floor of the 21st Street location into a seafood buffet.

In addition to a full array of seafood, there will be a stir-fry station, rotisserie meats and pasta. But you have to decide ahead of time if you want the buffet, because dishes on the regular menu will be available only in the downstairs dining rooms.

* If you can't get enough sports at the beach, give Mulligan's Restaurant & Sports Pub in the Marlin Park Plaza on Route 50 in West Ocean City a try. The restaurant will be able to broadcast nine different sports events and will have regulation-size billiards tables and games to keep sports enthusiasts entertained.

The owners are golf devotees, so it's not surprising that the restaurant is decorated in a golf theme with memorabilia from golf courses around the world.

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