“Wind. There’s gonna be lots of wind. You’ll need to set up your tent in the lee of your Jeep.” That’s what Shane Townsend told me, when he found out Jocelynn and I were planning to camp on the beach near South Padre last weekend.
Shane is an expert on beach camping, at least from my perspective, since he’s done it before. Me, not so much. I’ve been to a few beaches, so I had an idea what to expect, which made me a little apprehensive about the whole trip.
I said, “Shane, that’s all a beach is. Wind, and water, and sand. If you don’t have those three things, you don’t have a beach. Of course it will be windy.” I don’t know if Shane realized how much I love wind, as long as it’s blowing somewhere I ain’t.
But he wasn’t done with his advice. He said, “And take a shovel. You’ll need to dig a hole to build your fire in, so the wind doesn’t blow it out.” Ah, a light gale, refreshingly wafting off the gulf and gently destroying humanity. Paradise found.
Shane’s advice was a little useless, since we were already in McAllen, just an hour or so from South Padre Island. Shane and his wife, Abby, my wife, Jocelynn, and I had spent the weekend there attending the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America conference. I had not brought a shovel. For some reason I never thought I would need one while sitting in air conditioned hotel rooms and giving speeches. So Shane telling me to take a shovel to the beach didn’t do me any good, unless I wanted to go buy one. I didn’t.
Besides, I didn’t know we would be allowed to build a fire on the beach. Central Texas has been under a burn ban for so long I forgot what a campfire looked like, anyway. I had a couple of small camp stoves I planned to use. But then, if the wind could blow out a campfire, it would probably laugh at my little stoves. I was beginning to think beach camping was a Bad Idea.
But Jocelynn wanted to wake up on the beach, and hear the waves gently lapping at the sandy shore, and walk along the tideline looking for shells, and find shells by stepping on them and lacerating her feet to ribbons. So we were going beach camping.
By the time we managed to drive through the town of South Padre and find the last beach access road from the pavement it was after ten o’clock at night, and then we had to drive up and down the beach looking for a good camping spot. This is defined as ‘a spot on the beach that looks just like every other spot on the beach, but is as far away from other campers as possible.’ This took half an hour, part of which we actually drove in the Gulf of Mexico, because that’s where the road is. I worried about sharks swimming up and biting our tires, but figured my friend, Greg Berlocher, would make fun of me for that, so I won’t mention it in this column.
We finally found a spot and set up camp, which involved Jocelynn standing on a tarp to keep it from blowing away while I set up our tent cot on it. This is a cot with a tent attached to it. Duh. Ours is double wide, so there’s room for both of us in there, along with, as it turns out, about half a yard of sand.
We finally got bedded down, and spent a restful night listening to the waves softly trying to wash the sand from under us, and the wind impishly worrying at our tent, and making an impressive effort to blow the Jeep over on top of us. I think I slept about ten minutes before waking up to the sound of the ocean again, which I could hardly hear, since by that time my ears were pretty much full of sand. This is why we go camping to begin with – the restfulness. On the beach, in one night, you can be restfully almost buried alive.
We made coffee and then packed everything back up and headed back toward town. But we didn’t get far before we passed a van with a family standing beside it. Dad had, for some reason, decided to drive off the pavement into the sand in a two-wheel-drive van. He got stuck so quickly that the rear bumper was almost touching the pavement. I started to ask him what he was thinking, but I was afraid he would tell me.
There were two little kids there, who evidently figured sand was sand, regardless of whether they could see the water, and were having a blast. The four-year-old boy had a Power Ranger cape and mask on, and was either terrorizing or rescuing his two-year-old sister, who immediately sent us into Cuteness Overload. This kid made Shirley Temple look like a Cabbage Patch doll.
We went and borrowed a tow strap and pulled the van out of the sand, and then headed on into town to see if we could find a place to take a shower. I would relate our adventures in pursuit of that quest, but the memories are still far too painful to repeat here.
Beach camping is a wonderful experience, and if you haven’t tried it you should definitely put it on your bucket list. I recommend doing it in early spring. Don’t forget to take a shovel, and definitely don’t drive onto the sand unless you have a four-wheel-drive. And most importantly, whatever you do, don’t go beach camping anywhere near a beach . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who hopes to get all the sand out of his ears by Christmas. 2025. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org