I am a self-proclaimed beach bum. In my book, very few places can remotely compare to a beach’s beauty, serenity and ability to lift stress and instill happiness. Recently, I was talking to four friends, fellow beach-lovers, who had just returned from vacations at the Jersey Shore. After we exchanged the high points of our beach vacations, they began griping about the recent escalation of rude or non-existent beach manners. It seems that we all had noticed it this summer. They were all at different shore points — Sea Isle, Wildwood, Ocean City and Avalon. When I chimed into the conversation, I was speaking about “my” shore point, Long Beach Island, so our discussion subject matter spanned five different beach destinations, viewed from five different perspectives.
Although the summer is breezing by, there are still quite a few weeks left to head to the beach, so, for whatever it’s worth, I am going to pass along these beach pet peeves that seemed almost universal in our group. If you are a culprit of ignoring unspoken beach etiquette, perhaps you may become more considerate after reading these reminders. If you are also bugged by these behaviors, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing that you aren’t just being a beach crank feeling this way. Others get irritated by thoughtless behavior on beaches, too.
“I loved every minute, except for the blasting radios on the beach,” the Ocean City beach friend stated, setting off an avalanche of reasons why most of us think that beach etiquette is becoming as endangered as some marine life. “I made the mistake of nicely asking one of the offenders to turn down his personal heavy metal concert last week, and I almost got into a fist fight.”
The group of my opinionated beach-loving friends was of both genders and mixed ages, so it seemed a fair sample of opinions. One thing we instantly agreed upon was that the unmannerly beach dwellers seem to become even more annoying and glaringly obvious when the beach gets over- crowded. Without recapping the entire conversation, here are some of the highlights that these fellow beach bums listed as rude and inconsiderate:
1) People are generally courteous and use earbuds at a gym, at a park and other public places, so why do they think everyone within a half-mile on the beach wants to listen to the same playlist or radio station that they do? Not everyone enjoys country, hip-hop or the blues, and they may actually want to listen to the crash of the waves or talk to their family. To be considerate, stop being the beach’s DJ and tone down the tunes, or, better yet, put on some headphones.
2) Why do snackers have to feed the seagulls? It seems, without fail, this happens daily on every beach. While it’s nice to bring snacks or lunch to the beach, try to be neat so that the food does not attract those preying birds who seem to get bolder, and a tad creepier and bigger, with every passing summer. Just as important as it is for you not to feed them, please remind your children not to feed them, too.
3) Speaking of kids — be sure to watch them! This was one that I really noticed this summer because my first week at the shore was pre-season before the lifeguards occupied the stands. I was amazed at how many parents slept, read books or played on their phones while their kids (some were mere toddlers) wandered into the ocean or walked aimlessly among towels on the beach. The beach lovers agreed that it is nerve-wracking to see so many unattended kids playing near the water or walking along the beach, so they found themselves watching others’ children instead of reading their book or catching a few winks. One friend said there were no less than three separate incidents of lost kids that happened in under four hours near her beach spot.
4) Shaking sandy towels, shirts and beach coverups or running to the water at top speed by others’ spaces. This complaint is older than the sands of time (pun attended). I hate to say it, but if you can’t take this one, stay off the beach because it is bound to happen every single time. I am only bringing it up because some of the beach lovers added it to the etiquette list of no-nos. Shaking sandy towels goes double on others’ annoyance meters if they’ve just applied sunscreen or tanning oil. And don’t forget to remove flip-flops before getting to the people-section of the beach. Walking near others’ towels with flip-flops on almost always kicks sand up onto their belongings or suntanned-oiled bodies.
5) Batten down the hatches! We all noticed a more-than-usual amount of runaway umbrellas and “tents” this year when breezes came over the beach, which could be a potential hazard. If you must bring all these accessories to set up a beach command center, be sure they are anchored well in the sand so they don’t go flying if a wind kicks up. Also, be ever mindful of the tide. When the tide comes in and all your stuff gets soaked, be ready to start running it further up in the direction of the dunes. Try not to let your belongings float over to your neighbors who will have their own worries of moving to a new dry spot quickly.
6) If the beach is crowded, you can’t help but be within earshot of the next beach blanket. Remember this when you are spilling your guts or pouring your heart out on your cellphone or to your beach companions. Please, guard your conversation. While I understand that it’s a free beach and you’re allowed freedom of speech, keep in mind that there are children and families all around you. So if you must curse and swear like a sailor or share a juicy, scandalous story, wait until you are off the beach and in your own car or house so others aren’t listening, especially younger ones. Honestly, some of these overheard crazy stories could actually add to your beach enjoyment if you are a newsy person like me. Yes, I am admitting that sometimes eavesdropping is way better — and often more interesting — than reading the magazine or book that you carted along. However, my friends overruled me, saying that they don’t like the loudmouths, so I am including it on the list.
7) We all agreed on the etiquette of honoring personal space. Even when beaches are crowded, you should try your best to locate a spot that isn’t right on top of the next blanket. It’s just way too uncomfortable to be that close to the next beachgoer. When we went to the beach as a large extended family, my mom would always yell at the grandchildren, who would inevitably come six inches from our beach towels and start burying each other or making a sand castle. “You have miles and miles of beach, why are you right here on top of us?” she’d scold. It’s so true, though; why is everyone all cramped in clumps instead of all spread out? There’s enough wide-open beach space for everyone.
8) It’s a little unreal that in 2017, with all of the education, that people would still be litterbugs on the beach, but unfortunately, they are. We all noticed that there are still people, however small the number, who will leave behind trash when they vacate their spot. This behavior isn’t bad manners like shaking a sandy towel, blabbing gossip over the phone or blaring rap music — it’s just plain lazy and inexcusable. Besides some trash being harmful to marine life, beaches are just too beautiful to be littered — at all!
Thinking about tackling this whole beach etiquette subject in a column, I started to casually survey others about their beach pet peeves, and being in the middle of a hot summer, I opened a Pandora’s Box. Here are some other annoyances people added: those who smoke too closely to others’ “beach spaces” because the smoke wafts over to the surrounding spaces; people who don’t go up by the dunes to play their beach games of paddleball or Frisbee and force non-game playing people to dodge their balls or Frisbees; people who ignore signs on the beach and fish or swim or bring their dogs where they are prohibited; and beachgoers who wear Speedos and this season’s nude bathing suits (if you’re not sure what nude swimsuits are, trust me, you will know when you see them). I don’t think that last one really fits into etiquette, and I don’t think anyone should ever comment on another’s choice of bathing suit or beachwear, but some people told me to please include it.
These reminders of basic beach etiquette are absolutely not just exclusive for the New Jersey beaches. They apply to beach dwellers in Delaware, Maryland, Florida, Maine, California and all over the world. These are the same rules that applied in the 1920s and continue to be relevant right on through until today.
To a beach lover, there’s no greater day than one spent on a sunny beach, so be mindful and respectful of others and everyone can have an equally special experience. These reminders aren’t life and death or anything major that would prevent us beach bums from making the treks down to our local paradises. Rather, it’s just a Miss Manners reminder to be aware of others and how your careless behavior may affect them. Following a few basic etiquette standards will ensure that the beach remains pleasurable for everyone. In my opinion, the beach is one of God’s most perfect places. Let’s all enjoy and respect this amazing gift.
Readers can reach Peg DeGrassa at email@example.com.