May 2008

Friends in Low Tide Places at the Bluffton Sandbar

Author: Erin Clemmons

As a newcomer to the Lowcountry, moving to Bluffton one year ago has brought new perspective. Learning the colorful and unique culture has been nothing short of adventure. One of the most memorable experiences from my visits to and now life in Bluffton has undoubtedly been spending time at the quasi-secret summertime oasis in the May River: The Sandbar. Known to some as the “Redneck Riviera,” this strip of sand in the middle of the water, that shows itself for several hours a day, is the subject of great interest and intrigue. Initially, people unfamiliar with this magical place wonder: What does one do at a sandbar? How is it different from a sand beach? Are there bartenders at the sand bar?

Explaining The Sandbar is a difficult task. It is the Hilton Head Island beach without the tourist element. Understanding it only comes by experiencing it for yourself. After only one visit, it will become clear that this place truly represents the American ideal of egalitarianism. All differences relating to race, class, age, and past are washed aside with the tide and become irrelevant there. It is a social gathering like no other. Strangers become instant friends. How you look in your swimsuit is the least of anyone’s concern.

Ironically, the elite community of Palmetto Bluff overlooks this beacon of equality. On the bar, you will see Chris Crafts anchored next to row boats. No one blinks an eye. All are accepted, as there is a distinct absence of rules, regulations, and requirements.

However, sandbar season is already in full swing, so we need to take a look into the silent norms and customs that have developed within The Sandbar culture. First-time visitors must be equipped with a proper education on the bar. For those who want to give the impression that they have been coming here for years, the following suggestions serve as a not-so-official guide to the Bluffton Sandbar:

When to go to The Sandbar
The Sandbar is a meeting place. Even if it is not low tide, locals still meet there on any given Saturday or Sunday, from mid-April through September. For some, a crisp late winter day at The Sandbar can be just as much fun as a hot summer day. You may be the only one there, and can enjoy this place alone in all its beauty. Or consider a sunset cruise to The Sandbar for a picnic—maybe a midnight stop to check out the stars on a clear night. However, the biggest, most reliable turnout happens on weekend days in the late morning and afternoon. Note: Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Fourth of July are extremely popular at The Sandbar.

What to do before you go
Check the tide chart. For maximum sandbar activity, you want to be there at low tide. Make sure your boat is up to marine safety requirements. The Bluffton police, Department of Natural Resources, and Beaufort County police patrol the waters carefully and regularly.

What to Pack
Pack you boat full of friends, food, cold drinks and most importantly, your dog. Note: Sandbar sun is HOT; bring lots of sunscreen. Other essentials include chairs, towels and a cooler. The extras vary depending on your staying power. Options include games (football, Frisbee and bocce ball), grills, your favorite Clemson or USC coozie and even more cold drinks.

What to do once you are there
Make sure you find an ideal location to park the boat so that you are in the thick of the action. Unload your chairs and cooler onto the bar; settle in, sit back, watch the boats cruise by, people watch, or float in the water with your cold drink. Note: You will not see a more beautiful sunset than from The Sandbar.

Sandbar Warnings:
1. There are no restrooms near or on The Sandbar. (This was something I did not consider the first time!)
2. The Sandbar is a social event, so be ready to meet anyone and everyone. You will see people from all walks of life, and they will become your friends.
3. You may hear rap, country, and classic rock competing for volume at the very same time.
4. Watch your timing on the tide. Your boat could get beached for several hours if you are not careful (which wouldn’t be all that bad)!
5. From here on out, when you try to relax, your mind’s eye will immediately go to the memory of your time on The Sandbar.

Now that you are equipped with the customs and norms, it is time to get out there and soak up the sun and cultural experience on the “bar.” So check your tide charts, within hours Bluffton’s own free water park will be washed away with the tide. It is the ocean’s reminder that “what happens on The Sandbar, stays on The Sandbar”…well, sort of. When you leave, you can’t help but sing those lyrics: “…where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away.” So if you aren’t that big on the importance of social graces, slip on down to Bluffton’s very own oasis in the very near future for a memorable experience.

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