Once upon a time, I took naps at the beach while getting a glorious tan. After my siesta, I dove through waves. Hours would go by while switching between napping and splashing around in the ocean. And cold beers sat inside a cooler waiting to be consumed.
Now, an unopened book sits inside a beach bag along with granola bars, small bags of Pirate Booty, and half-eaten sandwiches. My cooler is stocked with water bottles and juice boxes. Napping is out of the question as I alternate between building sand castles and jumping waves while making sure the littlest ones are not pulled away by the undertow. A day at the beach is no longer about rest and relaxation, it’s about making sure my family is safe while having fun.
I’ve been a dad for 14 years now and have spent more time at the beach as a dad than I did as a single man. Malcolm Gladwell said, “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.” I doubt I’ve spent that amount of time at the beach, but I am great at being a beach dad.
Here is a list of things I do to make sure a day at the beach is a success.
1. I always park our stuff near the lifeguard. ALWAYS. If I arrive at the beach and no spots are available next to the closest lifeguard stand, I’ll walk down the beach until I find a spot. Here’s why:
• Lifeguards have a lot to observe while on the stand and are (should be) scanning the waters for those needing help. When I pull up next to the lifeguard, it makes them aware kids are in the area and will be more vigilant.
• Who hasn’t been playing in the water and realized you somehow drifted far away from where you began? The lifeguard stand is a marker of where we need to be. My kids have been trained to constantly look over at the stand and see if they are still near our blanket.
• Whenever the lifeguard blows a whistle, it gets my attention. Right away I do a head count of my 4 kids and make sure they’re all accounted for. I don’t hover over my older kids at the beach and I give them independence. That doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for them. The whistle is a good chance to monitor my teens to make sure all is okay.
2. Sunscreen happens before a foot steps onto the sand.
• The American Academy of Dermatology states it takes 15 minutes for skin to absorb sunscreen. It is hard to keep the stampede from the water when the kids arrive at the beach. We either put sunscreen on at home or in the car.
• Every time we go to the beach, sand sticks to their skin immediately after opening the car doors. I hate putting sunscreen on sandy kids. Putting on before encountering sand makes sure it covers all areas of the skin without exfoliating the kids’ faces.
(And speakng of sand, the best way to get sand off is by sprinkling a little bit of baby powder on the skin.)
3. A sled is the easiest way to transport stuff across the beach.
• I have used strollers, carts, and other means to transport toys, umbrellas, and boogie boards across the sand. Don’t stick the plastic sled used during winter months in the back of the basement yet. The sled glides along the sand with your beach supplies. If you have a toddler tired from walking, it is an easy way to get them across the hot sand.
4. Take advice from The Gambler:
“know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.”
You packed so much stuff it appears you’re going on vacation. Sunscreen is smeared on and you carefully placed the blanket on the ground and impaled the sand with an umbrella. 30 minutes later, your kids want to go home because they’re bored or because a seashell cut their foot. You can either make them stay and everyone is miserable or take Kenny’s advice to fold and walk away. I’ve done both and I have never had a good time at the beach when my kids were wanting to be somewhere else.
5. Hide and save a treat for when needed most.
• Do not let your kids know you’ve got a hidden stash of candy somewhere. You can either save a beach day or become the world’s greatest parent by revealing a hidden candy stash. After hours of playing in the sand and water, a boost of sugar will prolong the day.
6. Beach chairs are overrated.
• It is one more thing we don’t need. If I sit, I can sit on the blanket. I’m up more than I’m down.
7. Pack small items for downtime.
• Uno cards, Banana Grams, and sketchbooks can help extend the day. At some point, everyone gets tired and needs something different. Sitting on the blanket while playing a game or having a kid draw is not only a way to help the newly applied 2nd round of sunscreen to soak in, it can also help you get that moment of relaxation you’ve been desiring.
There you have it. Those are my 5 suggestions to maximize your beach experience. I’ve probably got more, but I just got back from the beach and I’m exhausted.
If you live in NYC, beat the heat with these suggestions: Culture Pass / Free Museums / NYC Public Pools / Free Bowling / $1 Movies