Where I live right now, I walk to the beach (a quiet, sandy little alcove – pure bliss). A chair on my back and a bottle of water is all I need. However, I grew up ten minutes from Seaside Park, NJ (a beautiful beach), which means I spent a lot of time on the beach, but we drove to it. And when you drive to the beach, you pack for it. And how you pack (i.e. what you bring) can be simple or it can be very heavy. Following are ten tips that should help anyone navigate the beach a little smarter this summer:
- Simply put: Carry Less! Even the Mexicans at the border aren’t carrying as much as we are for a few hours on the beach. Do you really need two books, three magazines, six snacks, a cooler full of drinks and fruit, two bags of chips, a frisbee and a football?
If your’re planning to go for just a few hours, you only need: One chair, a towel, a bottle of water, and maybe some grapes (a great beach snack). That’s it. You probably don’t even need to re-apply sunscreen for a couple/few hours. Save your back and skip all the crap.
If you plan to spend the day, and have kids, then you’ll probably be packing more than you’d like to carry. Invest in one of those beach wagons. Lifesavers! And ask your kids to carry something. My son will whine every time until I threaten him, “Okay well then leave your pail and shovel there; I’m sure another kid will love them.” And wouldn’t you know? He picks them up and carries them! Start the frustration young so they have realistic expectations of the beach when they grow up.
- Choose your chair wisely. You want a chair that will go all the way back so you can lay flat. It should also have drink holders (two are best so one can hold your cell phone). And if you can find this chair with backpack straps attached, you’ve won.
- Bring a boogie board. If you have young children, expect to spend the bulk of time right at the water line. They’ll want to be there nearly the whole time. This is where a boogie board comes in handy. I like to drag one down to the edge of the water and sit on it. I get to put my feet in the water and sometimes I’ll get a little float from the water beneath me and it’s great. Or, if the kids have the boogie board, I pick up my son’s beach chair, which is smaller than mine, and carry that to the water. I can let the water flow underneath me while still closely watching my son play in the shallow waves.
- Teach your children to play in front of the lifeguard. This takes a lot of reinforcing, but they need to learn about drift. They will drift, even if they touch the bottom. Teach them to keep finding the lifeguard and making sure they go back to being right in front of them. It keeps them safe and you know where to find them. Also, use a buddy system and enforce it! If someone leaves their buddy, give them both a time out.
- Design family hand/arm signals so you can communicate with them when they’re in the water. I learned this from my father who was a hockey coach and over the years we all learned to speak in hand gestures (not sign language, more like crazy arm coachy language). Crazy arms are fine as long as everyone understands the language.
- Leave your valuables at home. We’d love to believe that even in the safest towns, there aren’t any pick-pockets on the beach. (Hey, man, we’re all just chillin’) But don’t take the risk. All you need on the beach is a little bit of cash for concessions (if that), and probably your license to get there. Leave everything else at home. (Of course, see my other post “My house was robbed while I was at the beach.” j/k) Also look out for: “My car was robbed while I was on the beach.”
- Secure that umbrella! If you bring an umbrella, make sure you have it in the sand deep enough, and use sand weights to help secure it. People have died being impaled by umbrellas that have blown away in the wind. And they blow away easier than you think. Get yourself a good sand anchor. (Beachr Beach Umbrella Sand Anchor, $20 on Amazon). And for God sakes, if the wind is really strong, put that sucker down!
What’s one step better? If you see someone setting up and you know they haven’t secured their umbrella well enough, don’t just glare over at them whispering “Idiot” under your breath (which I’ve done plenty of times, watching in horror and praying nothing bad would happen).
Offer to help do it better. Because reality check? You’ll be the idiot with their umbrella in your gut (quite frankly, I’m amazed I’m still alive).
If you decide to use a tent, be courteous not to block someone’s view. Also, immediately stash all your heaviest things inside so that also doesn’t blow away.
- Watch out for the seagulls! The seagulls are the smartest birds I’ve ever seen. They watch – no wait – stalk you! They inconspicuously circle above you, pretending to be doing other birdy things, waiting for you to put that sandwich down or turn your head for one second before they swoop down and take the whole cardboard tray of fries. And if you think I’m kidding, try testing it. I’ve seen entire bags of chips being flown away. Relentless! Keep your food under a blanket or something and take one bite out at a time.
Also, do you really need all that food for just a few hours at the beach? And I’m not some skinny, anti-food person – quite the opposite.
But personally, rather than fighting the birds, I’d save my appetite for the nearby restaurant that’s air-conditioned and has a bar. And being so close to the beach, they don’t mind beach wear, but you brought fairly decent clothes anyway, right? Which brings me to:
- Bring something you can wear into a restaurant, or anything where real clothes might be necessary. I think this falls under the “wear fresh underwear in case you get into an accident” category. And you certainly don’t want to be all barefoot-in-the-bathroom-Britney-Spears, do you? And more often than you think, bring a sweatshirt, or least keep one in the car. You’d be surprised how often you need one when it’s otherwise a gorgeous day out. It’s always cooler at the beach. A long-sleeved T-shirt can work perfectly, too.
- Watch for riptides. Even the strongest swimmers can get taken under by riptides. If caught in one, swim parallel to the shore to get out of it, not directly into shore. But if you don’t know how to spot the current yourself, ask a lifeguard upon arrival if there are riptides that day. Many beaches will put up flags to warn you of these, by way of red, yellow, green. Look for these and pay attention. Experienced beach-goers abide by these warnings. You should, too!
- Finally, the best time to go to the beach is early morning or late afternoon. Trust me. If you’re a morning person, get there at 8:00 am. It’s quiet; it’s gorgeous. You have your pick of a spot. It’s cool enough to drink a hot coffee, peacefully. You’ll see the lifeguards set up, people walking their dogs, and the early surfers head home. And pretty soon, yes, you’ll still get a tan.
And the best part is you’ll be home early enough to water the flowers, run a few errands and make a kick-ass dinner. It’s like two days in one.
Alternatively, if you’re not a morning person, go at 3:00 or 4:00 pm. The early beach-goers, or even the mid-day short timers, will leave you the best parking spots, and you may not even have to pay. The crowd will thin out. The seagulls have been fed.
You’ll get the best part of the sunshine, and then as it falls dusk, you’ll take out that sweatshirt and watch the lifeguards pack up and the fisherman and surfers arrive. It’s so peaceful now. The sand will cool and no longer burn your feet. The sunset will be beautiful. And then you can go have dinner at the beachfront restaurant because you’re not all sweaty from a high-noon beach visit.
Or, get home in time to throw that steak on the grill, the one you remembered to marinate before you left. I mean, really, could this scenario be any more perfect?