The People To Avoid At The Beach

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The People To Avoid At The Beach

Words by Mr Chris Elvidge

10 August 2016

A rundown of the beachgoers you won’t want to park your parasol next to this summer .

The beach. For the majority of the year it stands largely empty, its only inhabitants a few hardy dog walkers, morning joggers and lonely, metal detector-wielding divorcees. Come summer, though, when the holiday-making throng descends, this otherwise barren strip of sand fringing the coastline plays host to as vast and diverse an array of human life as you’re likely to see anywhere on the planet.

They come to frolic in the surf and to bask in the sun: two activities which, by their very nature, require the removal of almost all of their clothes. In this unique environment, shed of their protective outer layers, we observe humanity at its most vulnerable, its most raw. Under the bleaching light of a high-summer sun, flaws and insecurities are revealed. And as the rules and hierarchies that normally govern human society splinter and crack, a strange new cast of characters begins to emerge.

Swaggering, chest-beating alpha-males stalk the sand, on the hunt for mates. Men who, under normal circumstances, would be ridiculed for spending every waking moment in the gym, find themselves suddenly elevated to the status of demi-gods. Grown men, presented with a bucket and a spade, regress to a childish state. Dave, 38, who is single and works in HR, takes off his shirt to reveal a “BangFace Weekender” tattoo spread across his back.

Just who are these people? And what is it about the heady combination of sand, sea and sun that causes them to act in the way that they do? In MR PORTER’s handy spotter’s field guide, we introduce you to a few of the characters you’re likely to meet at the beach and attempt to answer a few of these questions.

Like the grey wolf or the orca, the beach bro (BB) is a highly social animal, choosing to surround himself with a circle of like-minded individuals who share his passion for obscenely large quantities of protein, tequila shots and going “WOOO! YEAH!” at nothing in particular. (The collective noun for a BB, if you’re wondering, is a “gronk”.) His natural habitat during the summer is, of course, the beach, which he treats as his own personal gridiron, showing little consideration for the presence of other beachgoers, who he sees as nothing more than inconvenient obstacles standing between him and his imaginary end-zone. His arm strength is prodigious, easily capable of propelling a football well beyond its intended receiver and into, say, the middle of a family picnic or a small child’s sandcastle. Along with sportsman, the BB also plays the role of self-appointed musical director for the beach, blasting tinny EDM through his obscenely large portable speaker, making sure to turn the volume up beyond the point of distortion when the beat drops. The BB loves it when the beat drops.

One of the marvels of the Instagram era is that it is now possible to make a fairly good living simply by going to the beach, taking flattering photographs of yourself and posting them on the internet. All you need is tight abs, great hair, an extensive swimwear collection and a willingness to shill detox tea of questionable nutritional value. If you want to make it all the way to the top of the Insta-famous tree, though, you’re going to need to something more. Enter the Instagram Power Couple (IPC), who were drawn together by a mutual attraction for each other (and themselves) and who realise the fundamental truth of social-media marketing, which is that everything can be monetised, even love. By sharing a seemingly endless torrent of opprobrium- and vomit-inducing photographs (#hammocktime! #boattrip!) and annotating them with cloying, sentimental captions littered with heart-eye emojis, the IPC project an image of themselves as the perfect, aspirational couple. Online, at least, it works like a charm. The IPC are a like-generating machine, #relationshipgoals made flesh. In real life, though, they spend most of their day arguing over joint endorsement deals and sleep in separate beds.

A man so pasty that he risks getting burnt under the light of a waning moon, this spectral beachgoer is something of an anomaly. What’s he actually doing here, if not to enjoy the sun? Was he lured here by inconsiderate friends who don’t suffer from the effects of having near-translucent skin? Did he hear on the online grapevine that this was a good place to catch a Lapras, or whatever, in Pokémon Go? Or, as his complexion seems to suggest, is he some kind of ghost, the victim of a freak powerboat accident? No? OK then. This poor, pallid creature can typically be found anywhere there’s shade: beneath a palm tree, behind an ice-cream truck, or lying in the leeward side of a piece of driftwood. In the event of having to leave his lair, he protects himself with a bucket hat (black), long-sleeved wetsuit T-shirt (black) and constantly reapplied factor 50+ sunscreen, the residue of which makes him look even paler and more ghostly than he already is, if that’s even possible.

There’s always one: the fully grown man who feels compelled, for whatever reason, to dig an enormous hole in the sand. What’s behind this bizarre behaviour? Was he a dog in a previous life? Does he harbour a deep-seated desire to revert to a childhood state, even to reenter the womb? Is he laying foundations for the Greatest Sandcastle Of All Time? Or does he still think that if you dig deep enough, you’ll eventually get to China? Chances are he’s just suffering from First Day of Vacation Syndrome (FDVS), a condition that affects salaried men who haven’t yet managed to switch off from “work mode” and who just have to be doing something, anything, even if that thing is just a pointless and menial act of sand displacement, because without work, without at least the illusion of being somewhat productive, who or what even are they? Do they even exist?

Getting to the beach was the easy bit. Sure, he was loaded down like a beast of burden on the walk from the car with two cool boxes, a foldable gazebo and a tote bag full of inflatables, wet wipes, sun cream, swimsuits and beach towels for his four children. Yes, he did it all on one foot, because the strap on his left flip-flop snapped just as he was stepping out of the car. Once he takes up his spot on the beach, though, that’s when the fun really starts: laying down four beach towels in a strong breeze; inflating a lilo, two beach balls and a giant swan (“Can someone remind me whose idea it was to bring the swan?”) by lung power alone; applying sun cream to the shoulders of four hyperactive children only to watch them rush straight into the sea and wash it all off again; realising that he left the assembly instructions for the gazebo in the car, and the poles are all labelled things like “6b” and “14a” and they just don’t seem to slot together, no matter which way he tries to force them in, no matter how hard, and the whole time his wife’s just lying there under that massive sunhat doing nothing… but hey, at least he remembered to stash a couple of beers in the bottom of the cool box. Hang on, though. Did he?

Illustrations by Ms Karin Kellner