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Before you hit the beach - gear up!

    Surveyed your beach gear lately? It might be time to get rid of those rusty chairs you inherited from the grandparents. The thread-bare Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles towels can go, too. And while you're at it, chuck the decades-old bottle of sunscreen, moldy cooler and flimsy umbrella that never stayed in the dang sand.

Upgrading your beach accessories can make trips to the Lowcountry shores more convenient and fun. Gone are the days when a few towels cut it -- just look down any crowded beach. Beachgoers are chillin' under canopy tents, playing all sorts of games and getting the most out of their time in the sun.

Here are some items that can take your beach set up from sorry to splendid.

SEATING

Sure, you can sit on a towel. But if you plan on hitting the beach for more than an hour or two, bring a chair -- your behind (and back) will thank you. Chair features can include an attached canopy for personal shade, drink holders and footrests. The best beach chairs are easy to carry. Some chairs even fold up to be carried like a backpack.

When buying a beach chair, consider its purpose. Working on your tan? Go for a full reclining chair. Determined to avoid burning? A canopy chair's a good bet. Set on reading by the waves? Try a small recliner that sits low to the ground.

If you all you want is the towel, consider upgrading to a padded beach mat for more support.

  • Cool accessory tip: Pick up some Boca Clips to keep your towel from blowing off your chair. A pair of clips is available at most beach stores for about $6.
  • SHADE

    Shelters provide relief from the sun's punishing rays, and can provide extra SPF protection. A large beach or backyard canopy provides plentiful shade for big groups -- cool off with the whole family. Portable sun shelters that cover two people in chairs are perfect for couples.

    Umbrellas are still a popular choice for creating a shady retreat. The quickest way to kill the kindness of your beach neighbors? Allowing your umbrella to go airborne. Choose an umbrella that's sturdy, and take special care to firmly plant it in the ground with the right equipment. For $10 or less, beach umbrella anchors can ensure no one gets an umbrella to the face.

    There are ways to find shade beyond big shelters and cumbersome umbrellas. The Cush'n Shade ($9.99, www.cushnshade.com) attaches to any chair to shield your face from the sun, making reading (or snoozing) easier. Chairs with attached canopies, as stated above, provide similar protection.

    REFRESHMENTS

    Cold beverages and sandwiches demand a cooler, of course. If all you have is a bulky block from the '70s, consider getting a cooler cooler. The Sublime 40-Can Wheeled Cooler ($29.99, Bed Bath and Beyond) features a retractable handle, and the bag collapses for easy storage. Small insulated totes in fun colors and patterns are available at big department stores.

    Relaxing under an umbrella? Get fancy with a table -- complete with cup holders and a spot for your phone or MP3 player -- that attaches to the pole ($9.99, Bed Bath and Beyond).

    GAMES

    If sitting around soaking up vitamin D isn't your idea of fun, get your game on. Sure, it's a classic, but a cheap, lightweight Frisbee is a welcome distraction for all ages. Get competitive with a game of ultimate Frisbee. A football can provide similar entertainment.

    Bocce, ladderball (also called hillbilly golf) and horseshoes are also suited for the sand and easy to tote to the beach. Remember to be considerate of the folks around you; find a relatively open area to have your fun. Short on players? Foster seaside goodwill and ask your neighbors to play.

    TRANSPORT

    With all this choice gear you'll need a way to get it to the beach. Big bags with long straps are cheap and easy, but might become difficult to carry when filled with heavy items. Nowadays the transport of choice is the beach caddy, a wheeled cart that makes large loads more manageable. They're available for $30 to $50 at local beach and department stores.

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