Nothing Bad Ever Happens at the Beach

Scene of the fire at AJs restaurant on the Destin harbor, February 9, 2016
Our first year as snowbirds, we witnessed a raging fire that broke out at AJ's where we had just departed just seconds earlier

Nothing Bad Ever Happens at the Beach 

Why Snowbirds and Tourists Should Know and Set Individual Limits

For nine years and counting, my sister has resided near world-famous Waikiki Beach on the island of O'ahu, Hawaii. Known as "The Gathering Place," the island is a mecca for domestic and international tourism. Home to nearly a million residents, it also hosts the largest number of annual tourists of any of the Hawaiian islands.

"Nothing bad ever happens at the beach" is a frequent topic of phone conversation between my sister and I. Of course it's absolutely not true. We usually bring it up after something has gone horribly wrong that we want to share. It's painful to know many of the accidents are entirely preventable and yet bad judgment prevails in the name of a thrilling new adventure, over-estimating one's abilities or attempting to get that amazing photo to document the unbelievable scenery.

Accidents of all kinds happen everywhere at any given time. The perception of many tourists and snowbirds is that because they are enjoying time away -- at the beach, in the mountains or at their winter home -- bad things won't happen. Yet it does. Just because it isn't plastered all over the news doesn't mean visitors don't get lost on remote trails with no cell service, hit by cars, fall into hot springs, crash on a helicopter tour or get swept out to sea by a rogue wave while standing on lava rocks. 

My northern neighbor's brother was fatally injured by a falling rock while standing under a Maui waterfall. His group had entered a restricted area and it cost his life. I have family members who hiked a narrow, treacherous trail on their Kauai honeymoon and nearly slipped down a steep incline on the wet rocks. It absolutely caused an otherwise blissful vacation to become very stressful.

The opinion of my sister is the local media purposefully does not emphasize these types of reports. That would be bad for the tourism business, which is the prime industry for the State of Hawaii. Therefore it is imperative to think ahead, know your limits and make solid, non-emotional decisions based on your own individual abilities.

The topic of this post had already been planned when historic Hurricane Ian catastrophically devastated many areas in the State of Florida and coastal areas of South Carolina. Our hearts break for everyone affected including the humans, pets and wildlife. There are no words.  


Recognize Your Personal Limits, Learn from the Mistakes of Others

I'm not a first responder by any means and typically have rarely had to call for emergency services. That changed when my husband and I became snowbirds. Every season we personally witness accidents that require an emergency call and there are plenty of examples of other horrible situations that do make the local news in our snowbird community in Northwest Florida.

The main objective is to not only learn from your own experiences, but those of others. Be cautious instead of later regretting your decisions. It isn't just seniors who get in over their heads, it's all ages as well as pets.

Following are recollections of the most memorable events I have witnessed during my years as a snowbird. A lot has happened and it involves so many aspects of everyday life. May these painful situations help someone else as a form of pay it forward by knowledge.


Our first year in our snowbird community we witnessed a vehicle with a dog riding in the front passenger seat. The window was open all the way. I think you know where I'm going with this. Something caused the dog to leap from the moving vehicle. It landed hard on the pavement and rolled multiple times, screaming in pain. My husband and I were horrified. We hoped the dog would be ok, but unfortunately will never know.


The same year for a Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras celebration, we dined at a restaurant with amazing views of Destin's harbor. AJ's had live entertainment and a packed house of patrons enjoying the music. After the show was done, we were some of the last guests to leave and walked down the boardwalk to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Whoa. I looked back at AJ's and the thatched roof was on fire! My husband sprinted back to AJ's to try to assist while I and others called for emergency help. Thankfully the place was safely evacuated and the main damage was to the roof, but it was a scary situation that would have been much worse had the show not ended before the fire broke out. Be aware of your surroundings. Always note the exits when in a public space. Things happen when you least expect it.


Several years ago, we finished lunch and just happened to be near the front door of our sizeable condo. We heard shrill screams as if an animal was being attacked. Another neighbor and my husband and I ran out to the hallway and discovered a young child with two female family members and a baby in a stroller. They were exiting the elevator on our floor. The young girl's right hand became pinched inside the very narrow space of the elevator door when she suddenly threw her arms out and pushed the closing doors open. We didn't have a phone with us so I pressed the red button of the elevator to talk to emergency responders. It was not going to be quick for them to arrive. So my husband and our beloved neighbor, Tom were able to use every ounce of strength to pry the elevator door open so the girl could get her hand out. She was scared, but thankfully no broken bones.

Children and pets are not typically accustomed to riding on elevators and need extra supervision. Never allow children to play on an elevator and instruct them to stand still with their arms at their sides. Pets and children should be swiftly moved on and off the elevator.

Bikes, Pets and Pedestrians

There's a green space and a very nice wide paved sidewalk next to the busy road that spans our stretch of the beach. The area is very popular for pedestrians of all ages. Some have dogs on a leash, others have dogs or children in strollers, yet others are on skateboards or roller blades. There are also cyclists on traditional and electric bikes. As you can imagine, with all of this activity comes plenty of opportunities for collisions. I've witnessed the aftermath of a bike accident that resulted in a bloody mess, but the worst one that locals still talk about is a woman who merely was crossing a driveway to get to the beach. She was broadsided by a cyclist who was flying way too fast for the area and never slowed down for the many driveways along the road. Rumor is that the woman suffered irreparable brain damage from the accident. She will never be the same through no fault of her own except being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We've often commented you need to have your head on a swivel when out for a walk.

Planes and Choppers

No one, including me, wants to ever again wake up before dawn to see the many flashlights of searchers up and down the beach near the water line. Not only were there searchers on the shore, there was also planes with search lights flying low over the water. It was disturbing because it's obvious something is terribly wrong. We learned they were looking for the remains of a man and woman whose single engine plane crashed into the gulf. It's another haunting memory from our first year and a sobering reminder that planes and helicopters are at risk of crashes. In many cases, it's a much higher risk than commercial planes.


Know the Beach Conditions

Learn what the flags mean. It could save your life to know a purple flag indicates dangerous marine life in the area; a red flag means dangerous conditions due to wind, undertow or rip tides and a double red means absolutely no one is permitted in the water. Yet we repeatedly see surfers, the occasional kite surfer and swimmers in the water on reds and double reds taking crazy chances in the dangerous surf. If there are no flags in the area where you are, stay out of the water. Just because the water looks calm doesn't mean undertow currents aren't there.

Recognize Your Limitations

If you aren't in great shape and/or are not a strong swimmer, don't take chances. Stay in the shallow water or on the shore. Despite the cliches about the gulf being the mild side of Florida's beaches (as well as other coastal states: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas), it can be angry, fierce and unrelenting. Remember, whether you are near or in an ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, the body of water is stronger than you are. You have to respect the power of the ocean and the gulf.

Rip Tides

I admit, I didn't fully understand what a rip tide, also known as a rip current, formation involves until not that long ago. I've seen the diagrams and know to "swim parallel to the shore." What I didn't know is that it is possible from the shore to identify a rip tide by the way the water is flowing. It occurs in certain areas of a beach and it is influenced by the shape of the beach. If you haven't already, take time to learn the features of a rip tide. Watch videos for examples of rip currents and feeder rips. If the water looks "angry" and you aren't an avid swimmer, don't get in the water or stay in the shallow water close to the shore.

Dangerous Marine Life

One season we splurged on a 30 minute helicopter tour of the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a gorgeous day with stunning views of the emerald green water and everything in it. It was easy to spot the sharks from above and there are plenty. Just because you are blissfully unaware stingrays and sharks are swimming nearby doesn't mean they aren't there. Sharks or not, there's plenty of jellyfish, man-o-wars or other wildlife that are protecting their babies and have no qualms about attacking anyone who gets too close.


Shore fishing is popular along our beach. Stay far away from the lines, especially when the lines are being cast. Why would anyone take a chance of getting a hook lodged into their skin. Don't forget to watch where you walk. Never assume sharp objects such as hooks are not in the sand.


Many visitors to the beach enjoy digging holes in the sand. Fine, just fill them in before leaving and never leave a hole overnight. Beach walkers, pets and wild animals do not need to risk injury from stepping in a hole.

Boats, Kayaks, Canoes, Pontoons

Every year we hear reports of tragic drownings. No matter your vessel of choice, if you aren't adequately skilled, don't do it. The professionals know where to go based on the weather conditions and when to stay ashore. If you can hire a pro, it's worth it for the peace of mind.



Mid-morning on an unusually chilly day a driver careened around a corner from the main beach drive into a suburban neighborhood of expensive homes where the vehicle crashed into the divided median, knocked into a couple of palms, then came to rest on it's side. Had it not been so cold, the sidewalks in this area would have been populated with people and their pets. Although due to privacy, we only have pure speculation, it seems the driver may have had a medical event that caused the crash. It didn't appear to be from the weather conditions. We watched as the rescue crews attempted to get the driver out. First by less invasive methods and ultimately having to cut the vehicles roof open. The man was taken by ambulance with a visible head wound. It could have been much worse had pedestrians been around. Never assume vehicles will remain on the road or can see you or your child or pet.


Our first year at the beach was full of accidents, including a senior woman who was with her friends on a rainy morning. They decided to cross the road and descend the multiple flights of wooden stairs to access the beach. The stairs have narrow treads and they were wet, which means very slippery. You guessed it, she slipped and fell on the steep stairs. She hit her head, resulting in bleeding. My husband saw the accident happen from our balcony and rushed over with clean towels for her head while I (once again) called for emergency services. Because the woman had signs of a concussion and head trauma, first responders took her to the local hospital for an overnight stay out of an abundance of caution.

Remember, wood and other types of flooring is extremely slippery when wet. Always use hand rails. Make sure your shoes are laced, have adequate treads and so forth. Stairs are high risk for falls for anyone under the best circumstances.

Two weeks ago our 72 year old neighbor across the street was pushing a heavy box down his sloped driveway. It was the last day of moving their belongings before the new owner moved in. I watched Dave from our window and was stunned when he lost his balance, fell onto the concrete and rolled down the drive multiple times. He laid there, not moving. My husband and other witnesses were quick on the scene. Dave initially did not want an ambulance, then agreed he needed help. While the EMT's were loading him on the stretcher, his wife was overcome with emotion and fell to the grassy ground next to me. She fainted and I did my best to keep her head from smacking the Earth. It was a lot to take in, that morning they had both been just fine only 20 minutes earlier. We later learned Dave broke his hip and had surgery the following day. It was one of those situations where he overestimated his abilities. Although expensive, professional movers would have been far less painful or expensive than a broken hip.

Waivers to Participate

Ziplining, rock climbing, parasailing, sky diving, hot air balloon rides, bungee jumping, etc. all require waivers to participate. When you have to sign a waiver, you also need to ask yourself if it's worth it? For me, ziplining in the mountains of Tennessee was a "one and done." I was lucky to sustain only moderate damage to my arm ligaments and I've since realized that not every state has authorities that oversee ziplines or perhaps other activities of a similar nature. No one wants to try out a thrilling sport only to be injured or worse. Personally, I realized I'm fine with activities that don't require a waiver. If you like thrill-seeking sports, that's terrific, just be prepared for whatever that might mean, good or bad.

Parting Thoughts

Crosswalks are there for a reason. Stay within the crosswalk, put down your phone and pay attention to the traffic. It could save your life. If you are the driver, watch for pedestrians. There are many, even in the winter season.

Don't lull yourself into letting your guard down, stay in well lit areas after dark. Be smart about where you walk at night.

Keep your head on a swivel when necessary.

Respect restricted areas. It may not be immediately obvious why the area is restricted -- until it is too late.

Know the location of where you are at any given time. In the event of an accident, you'll need to provide a street address to the first responders.

If a victim is conscious, ask them if they would like for someone to call for an ambulance. Some have refused, it is their choice to make.

Stay calm. Becoming hysterical will upset everyone that much more.

Finally, always remember Fred Rogers' famous advice to look for the helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said to his television neighbors, “My mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. '”



"Caution is the parent of safety.”

-- Proverb


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