Beach people

Okay, we may be a little off topic today. But it’s the first official day of summer, and in the midst of our summer reading lists, we couldn’t help but share this story about–what else?–the beach. Author Ray McAllister has so generously written up a little something on North Carolina’s beaches, a subject he knows so well he’s written three books on it. Here he shares why some people–we’ll call them beach people–can’t get enough of the islands, which include the famed Outer Banks. I’m pretty sure you’ll be ready to drop everything and hit the sand after reading this.



Sunrise over the Jolly Roger Pier in Topsail Beach. Photo credit: Vicki McAllister

Jamie and Paul were married June 5 on the sands of Topsail Island. It all came off beautifully—flawlessly, really—which is remarkable when you think about it. As our son Ryan put it, “the degree of difficulty for a beach wedding is pretty high.”

Getting the tides right for your daughter’s big day is easy enough; there are tide charts. But try guaranteeing the weather. We sweated out hour-by-hour reports for days. All week long, forecasters offered up a rain chance of 30 or 40 percent. The cowards. Our anxiety hardly lessened when Topsail’s famed semi-annual sea turtle release, just three days before the wedding, was delayed hours by a ferocious series of thunderstorms.

But Nature smiled. Saturday evening was perfect. Just a few feet from the surf of the Atlantic Ocean, our daughter and her new husband exchanged vows, then poured sand together in a unity ceremony.

So why risk a wedding on a beach?

Are you kidding? Where else?

People who love North Carolina’s barrier islands know that. Special events are simply more special on a favorite island. But every sunrise, every sunset, every storm is more special. So is every swim, every leisurely walk, every hot dog, every book, every otherwise mundane moment.

It was only five years ago that we became regulars on North Carolina’s coast. Our oldest daughter, Lindsay, and her family visited Topsail Island. They in turn demanded we go. The love affair had begun. Soon a book resulted. Other books, on other islands, followed.

North Carolina’s barrier islands are intoxicating. Cares are bleached out in the sun, then washed away in the surf. The rhythms of life are different. Take this test: When you start vacation week on an island, aren’t all the cars driving too slow? It takes forever to get anywhere behind these clowns.

By the end of the week, aren’t they all driving too fast?

Invariably, we’re asked which is our favorite island. We finally bought a small home on Topsail this year, so that may be a hint. But it’s far from a definitive answer. Topsail, with fewer crowds, seems soothing in summer. But the same can be said of any of the Brunswick County islands, where time does virtually stand still. And there’s no more soul-stirring place than Hatteras Island, beautiful, remote, less crowded – and even a little wild.

My father swears by Bald Head Island. And the quaint village of Ocracoke, plopped down at sea, almost takes you back in time. Some of these places remind me of the Nags Head I visited in the early 1970s, before the hordes of tourists, McMansions and cheap T-shirt shops arrived. (Would Dante have had a special circle of hell for those who put Wings on the Outer Banks? It’s a good question for a philosophy class.)

While researching a Hatteras book, though, I stayed at a Nags Head motel in the dead of winter. Hardly a soul was about, and I found myself re-engaging with Nags Head. Likewise, Wrightsville Beach. It’s a small island, attracting hundreds of thousands in summer, and often you can’t find a parking place. In the off-season, the real Wrightsville re-emerges.

Barrier islands always belong to nature, in other words, and she makes that clear in winter. Take an island or leave it, but you’ll do so on her terms. Man is simply seasonal. Nature is in it for the long haul.

Jamie and Paul are on their honeymoon now. They are on a fabulous cruise of the Mediterranean, making stops at historic and romantic ports of call in Spain and Italy. It’s not Topsail, of course. But I’m sure it’s nice, too.


Ray McAllister is the author of three award-winning books: Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea; Wrightsville Beach: The Luminous Island, and Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks. Ray, a former newspaper columnist, is also editor of Boomer magazine. He and his wife Vicki, the books’ photographer, live in Richmond, Va., and, when their beach home is not being rented, Surf City, N.C. Visit him at


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