Beach Etiquette for Newcomers

Tips and advice for beaching like a local.

Story by Kerry Peresta

New to the Lowcountry? These insightful beach etiquette tips should help you breeze right through that pesky transition from tourist to local. The following suggestions about what not to do will ease those first awkward baby steps as a full-timer.

1. Do not bubble with enthusiasm

When walking to one of the Lowcountry’s lovely beaches, obvious non-local tipoffs include exclamations of excitement, jogs down the boardwalk, glowing smiles and jubilant chattering. After touching bare feet to sand in a moment of silent reverie, an hour-long setup of beach tent or canopy and careful placement of rented bicycles and beach paraphernalia ensues. Not a single toe has yet dipped into the water. When transitioning from tourist to local, we suggest practicing the bored, slightly bemused, beach walk. This is best accompanied by a hint of a smile, a faraway look in the eyes, perhaps a slight yawn. Steps are slow, measured, as if one has done this hundreds, even thousands of times. One is NEVER carrying a mound of beach paraphernalia that would bring a camel to its knees. In-the-know locals have a tidy backpack beach chair on their shoulders and a small beach bag that above all, does NOT boast “Hilton Head Island, No. 1 Island In The U.S.” on the exterior. If one is accompanied by children, it is acceptable to pull a sedate and appropriate beach buggy that is tidily stacked. The practiced permanent resident takes approximately 10 minutes from boardwalk to setup to toes in water; slightly longer with children.

2. Do not be offended by the beach stare

Lowcountry beaches are friendly places, but a beach stare is inevitable. If a beach stare from someone you do not know disturbs, try smiling and waving. Though this may be an unusual practice in the frozen tundra up north, on Hilton Head Island it is unusual NOT to wave and smile. The beach stare, which lasts mere seconds if one does not wave and smile in return, is simply an inquiry. A polite request to enjoy one another. Though it can be uncomfortable if the beach starer is wearing sunglasses, take heart. Underneath those shades is an interested, caring person desiring to share beach kudos all around. Locals often sidestep this issue by heartily waving and smiling at everyone within shouting distance. Most local dogs have also adopted this practice, although much licking is involved.

3. Do not complain about lack of underwater visibility

Our coastal waters are locally revered for healthy nutrients gleaned from our Lowcountry marshes. This is a source of much ecological pride. A non-local will refer to them as “murky” or “cloudy” or even (shudder) “dirty.” These comments will immediately catapult the transitioning newcomer into the tourist category, and be met with a frown of disapproval and a slight shake of the head. A lecture about our coastal waters may or may not be forthcoming. To be considered a local, consider revising comment to, “We especially love the healthy environment the ocean here provides for the dolphins.” This type of comment will get you a smile and launch a discourse about ecological wellness and the local sealife and shorebird community.

4. Do not fear the shark

Hilton Head Island’s celebrity shark hunter, Chip Michalove, assures our permanent population that the chances of a shark attack on our beaches is “a gazillion to one.” Known as the Great White Shark Whisperer, this man has caught, tagged, and researched so many Great Whites that he has begun to sprout a small dorsal fin on his back (not many people know this). When a beach lifeguard blows the alert whistle at a (usually tiny) shark sighting, a local will casually push up out of his beach chair and stroll to the edge of the waves for a glimpse of the elusive Great White or Tiger shark. A non-local will shriek, gather his children and rush them as far as possible from the water. Additional ways to identify the non-shark-savvy tourist include the typical pale face, slack jaw, trembling hands and refusal to enter the water for the rest of his vacation. Chillax, transitioning-to-local person. Sharks are a fact of island life just like our gators, but far less accessible.

Armed with these handy transition tips, we are optimistic that the newbie-to-local time threshold will be significantly reduced. Be brave, newbie! Be strong! We’ve all been there and survived. In no time at all, you too, will be bombarded by vacationing hordes on bicycles asking for directions. You, too, will join the throng that complain about the influx of vacationer-related traffic that adds 10 minutes to get to . . . well, everywhere.

Let the games begin!

Looking for something fun for your group to do at the beach? Beach Play Company specializes in beach party games and team building. It is a great solution to organizing a fun day at the beach with a large group. For more information, call 843-384-3670 or go online to beachplaycompany.com.