Who’s Who at the Beach

Going to the beach has changed a lot since my younger days, many of which I whiled away on the white sands of Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast. My best friend and I would ease on down the road from Citronelle to the coast with little more than our bathing suits and a towel. No cooler. No umbrella. Maybe some sunscreen. Maybe not.

It seems most everyone else on the beach with us took a similar approach. There might have been someone with an old Igloo and a 6-pack or two, a few boys might toss around a football to show off for the girlies, and, every now and then, you might luck up on a hotel that had rental chairs with an umbrella shading them. But for the most part, people just sat in the sand and baked or dabbled about in the waves. Life, and the beach, was simple then.

A recent trip to Florida got me thinking about how different beach goers are today, and I’ve decided that nouveau coast crawlers fall into a few distinct categories.

  1. The Readers – Usually found curled up in a sliver of shade with a hardback version of War and Peace, the Reader would much prefer to have stayed inside in the cool and dark. The Reader only goes to the beach because the rest of his family wants to and because it affords him long stretches of uninterrupted book time. If given half a chance, however, the Reader will sneak away to the nearest book store forsaking the smell of salt air for the scent of ink and paper.
  2. The Minimalists – These folks wander out on the beach, drop their towel in a wad on the ground, and head into the water. They seem to enjoy being completely covered in sand and having all of their things covered in sand. The Minimalist tends to be a practitioner of yoga and can often be seen running through a quick Sun Salutation or standing on their head or contorting themselves into crane pose. While I do admire their rock-hard abs and sinewy strength (my only six-pack is in the cooler with some limes), I don’t admire their sandy butt cheeks all up in my ocean view.
  3. The Tent-makers – If you get up around dawn and look out the window, inevitably you will see some poor fellow dragging a monstrous party tent to the edge of the water. Go get yourself a cup of coffee and sit on the balcony and watch him wrassle the thing up, fighting the wind the whole time. As you make your way through your second cup, you can see him struggle with sandbags and stakes and string while his brothers in arms join him in a similar fight to raise their shelters. I always imagine that there is a wife somewhere, still snoozing, who has demanded that he drag out at the crack of dawn to claim the best spot — or else, mister! By 8 a.m., your peaceful view of the waves lapping against the sandy shore will be almost completely obliterated by a rainbow of nylon shelters often proclaiming allegiance to one team or another. Throughout the course of the day, large, extended families will huddle like refugees under these contraptions, constantly scooting around to stay out of the sun like a herd of cows under a singular shade tree. Come cocktail hour, otherwise known as 4 p.m., as you relax on your balcony with an icy libation, you can watch the same Sad Sack(s), only now a little drunk and a lot sunburned, trudge back out to the shoreline, wrassle the whole thing down, and drag it across the lava-like afternoon sand with a look of resignation knowing that he will have to go through the whole rigamarole again tomorrow. Now that’s a vacation.
  4. The Boozers – It’s one thing to have a few cold ones on the beach. It’s another thing entirely to commence to drinking all day, fall across a few sunbathers, holler out some team chant or obscenity, and pass out face-down in the sand. Moderation, dear people, moderation.
  5. The Leopards – You can always tell a leopard by his spots…of sunburn. These are the people that haphazardly apply sunscreen and wind up with clumpy, sandy, white smears of SPF 100 over some of their parts while totally neglecting some of their other parts resulting in an unsightly pattern of frog-belly white and angry red spots. And much like a leopard whose spots will never change, these people will never learn the art of sunscreen application and will forever be outed by their blotchy flesh.
  6. The Hunters – Out at dawn and toting a Walmart sack are the Hunters, combing the beaches to claim every good shell that has washed up in the night. Heads down, shoulders hunched, eyes sweeping the surf, they are on the hunt for the big one, the real treasure, the one just like they saw at Souvenir City. No mere angel wing will suffice.
  7. Sporty McSportenstein – A vigorous dawn jog amongst the Hunters and the Tent-makers is not enough. Sporty will spend the day paddle boarding, canoeing, wakeboarding, and bike riding. By the end of the day you’ll think his little section of the beach is an Academy Sports and Outdoors ad. If you look close enough, you’ll find a Reader hiding under a surfboard praying that he/she won’t be asked to participate.
  8. The Ballers – Whether it’s football, baseball, pickleball, paddleball, beach ball, volleyball, bocce ball, frisbee (just a flat ball), and/or corn hole (technically a beanbag, I know), these folks must constantly be throwing something to somebody, usually in front of all the other vacationers. Note to all y’all Ballers: If you find yourself having to say “I’m sorry” to your fellow wave watchers more than twice in a period of a few minutes as they dive away from your instrument of destruction, you should shove it where the sun don’t shine…back into your beach bag.

So as you head down to the beach this summer, think about which category of beach-goer you fall into and try to spot the others. No matter who you are, the main thing to remember is to be respectful of your fellow vacationers. Don’t block their view. Don’t disturb them with your games. Try to be mindful of your space and their’s.

Oh, there’s one more category:

  1. The Observer – Under her rented umbrella, sipping on a Corona with lime, carefully taking notes about you will be the Observer. She will be wearing dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat to obscure her eyes. If you cross her field of vision, you should be aware that you are only providing her with inspiration for a story and that she thanks you, even if you did hit her with your pickle ball.