Story + Photos by Michele Roldán-Shaw
A river breeze rattles the palmetto fronds, and the novelty is you can actually hear them. You don’t hear traffic or yard crews; you’re not surrounded by swarms of tourists. Looking across the May, you see humps of small uninhabited islands rising from untold acres of Spartina grass — not a bunch of development. You sight dolphins cruising, egrets flapping, shrimp popping, big fish chasing the littler ones, maybe some kayakers and paddleboarders drifting past a crusty sailboat anchored out. Closer afoot, tiny armies of fiddler crabs mobilize over the mud flats. Bubbles come up where some secret mollusk is burrowing, plus there’s the snap, crackle, pop of barnacles that you can actually hear better from underwater. The point is, you hear them. There’s time and space to do that.
You’re at Alljoy Beach, treasured enclave of locals, old salts and folks who like it mellow. It’s Bluffton’s only public river access with a sandy beach suitable for swimming, so it’s been an asset to residents for generations. Since the early 1900s when hardly anybody lived here and people came from Estill to build their summer homes — those same saggy cottages now hide behind elephant ears and banana trees with vines creeping under their tin roofs. They go back to before the Civil War when there was some kind of encampment of men with mustaches in canvas tents cooking fish over a driftwood fire. Back when black folks threw cast nets for shrimp and mullet or rowed out in their bateaux to fish with dolphins. Since the times of the Indians when they had big oyster roasts and left their flint points and pottery shards all over the place. Since just the other day when you went there to get some peace.
Alljoy — the name suits it perfectly. Joy for all, without exclusion or judgment. It’s arguably the most egalitarian place in Bluffton. Hispanics go there on lunch break. Stay-at-home mommies watch toddlers. Locals in golf carts smoke cigarettes and carry lap dogs. Teens court in parked cars. Somebody comes for a swim. Somebody reads a cheap paperback in a lawn chair. Somebody has a whole text conversation while working on their tan all layed out over a beach towel with a beverage. A retired person rides through because they’re bored. Joggers and dog-walkers make the rounds. Drifters, loafers, loungers and roustabouts abide. The odd out-of-towner puts in an appearance, but if they’ve made it this far, they deserve to be here. As long as you’re not breaking the law or bothering anybody, it’s pretty live-and-let-live at Alljoy.
There’s a big shady oak tree at one end and lots of little green lizards carousing around. The concrete benches are covered in rainbow-colored spray paint — we’ll call it community art — but it most likely contains ecological messages about saving the sea turtles and such. Sometimes people shark fish, which is odd considering it’s a swim area. The sharks never get that big. Stingrays also are caught, but everybody knows about those; just shuffle your feet a little when you walk along the bottom, and they’ll get out of the way. Every so often an alligator starts hanging around despite saltwater not being its ideal habitat. Pictures and videos circulate on Facebook, and a concerned citizen might slap up a crude warning sign. Poor gator makes one false move, and he’s liable to get shot, because that’s how it is on the wild side of Bluffton.
That’s just it — Alljoy is the final frontier. The last place that feels like Bluffton, the real Bluffton of dip nets, bicycles and chicken necks, back before it got rebranded by marketers. The sleepy Old Bluffton of eccentrics and their famous state of mind. The Bluffton of closing your business on Wednesday afternoons to get out on the river. The Bluffton of Alljoy as a quiet place to chill and not be bothered. We know we can’t escape progress, but it’s nice when some things still feel the same: salty, sandy and unassuming, a slice of life that’s quirky and organic. Here’s to keeping the joy in Alljoy!
10 great things about Alljoy
- Swimming in the May River
- Watching the sunrise/sunset
- Launching a paddleboard or kayak
- Meeting a friend to catch up
- Enjoying a cold beverage in summer or hot thermos in winter
- Driftwood + paint = community art space
- Laidback vibe and inclusive spirit
- The wildlife
- How quiet it is
- The local, Old Bluffton feel