Despite sand, seagulls and bad tattoos, beaches refreshing for the soul

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comApril 18, 2013 

Hunting Island in 1967

It's often true that the things right in front of us, the things for which we should be most grateful, often go unnoticed or unappreciated.

I know this because it certainly is how I feel about the various beaches I've had the luxury of living near, including local spots on Hunting Island and Hilton Head Island, since leaving relatively beachless Indiana about seven years ago.

I recognize the natural beauty of a beach, but to say I completely understand the allure and borderline mania some feel for it would be an overstatement.

After all, it's not the Fountain of Youth or anything. It's a bunch of water bordered on one side by a bunch of sand, a lot of which you're going home with in your shoes, bags and shorts, whether you like it or not. It's nature's most annoying souvenir.

And that's not the only thing the beach has going against it.

Putting aside the dangerous marine life -- the omnipresent jellyfish and occasional shark -- there are rip currents, mooching seagulls intent on eating or defecating on everything in sight and enough ill-fitting bathing suits and odd body shapes to have you sprinting toward the nearest treadmill.

These images and countless others play on a loop in my mind whenever I consider a trip to this grainy land of tacky chairs, bagged lunches and lumpy bodies.

Given this attitude, I'm often caught off-guard when I head to the beach and find myself, shockingly, glad to be there -- the trip feeding what I can only believe to be primal urges to be near water.

As I sat on Hilton Head's Driessen Beach Park this past weekend, I suspected many of those laying or lounging in the sand near me had no intention of wading into the surf but found their mere proximity to the sea calming on a fundamental or almost instinctual level.

And this fascination with the sand and the surf didn't coincide with the construction of beachside condos and lush waterfront resorts.

There are reels of black-and-white footage from the 1920s and 1930s of beachgoers in parts of New England and the Northeast splashing about in bathing suits that bear a close resemblance to a painter's overalls than the bikinis and board shorts of today.

We've long had a love affair with the surf and the sea.

And then there's the people-watching. Perhaps no place other than the airport affords us a better chance to study the varied and sometimes bizarre dispositions and behaviors of our fellow man than the beach does and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Putting aside the men and women whose bodies appeared to have been designed for such an environment, there are no shortages of interesting and funny observations about the modern human condition to be made at the beach.

For starters, a lot of people bought a lot of ugly clothing, a lot of people got a lot of stupid tattoos, the kind of permanent markings that scream "Panama City Beach, Spring Break 2004" and a lot of guys have no idea how to attract a woman.

On Saturday, there was a group of college-aged guys hurling a Frisbee through in the air seemingly in the hopes of catching the eye of any number of attractive women in the area, functioning under the mistaken belief that women are attracted to men based simply on his ability to sling the 'bee. Not going to happen, man.

Yet as I smirked to myself, I was reminded that none of this would have been possible if I hadn't overcame all of the things that so annoyed me about this place and sought out the tranquility and yes, the entertainment, it provides.

As I folded up my chair, my shoes filled with sand and my skin a shade of red described on most color wheels as "Ow," I was glad I came.

In honor of the approaching summer weather, this week's playlist comprises eight new beach anthems.

Can we, as human beings, agree to stop feeding the seagulls? I promise they'll survive without your bits of bread and Doritos.

  • Parquet Courts, "Master of My Craft" -- A song begging to be played loudly from an old convertible or Jeep.

  • Palma Violets, "Best of Friends" -- New band. Throwback sound.

  • Waxahatchee, "Coast to Coast" -- A band whose name is almost as much fun as its music. Almost.

  • Passion Pit, "Carried Away" -- Does Passion Pit produce anything other than really infectious dance songs? I hope not.

  • Best Coast, "The Only Place" -- A song written about California that could easily be used to describe the South Carolina Lowcountry.

  • Tame Impala, "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" -- A little trippy and slow but perfect for the beach.

  • The Avett Brothers, "At the Beach" -- The name kind of says it all.

  • Cayucas, "Swimsuit" -- Don yours and head to the beach, but please, make sure it covers, you know, everything.

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