“Is the water salty?”
“Are there sharks out there?”
These are a few of the questions Myshel Rodenbeck, a lifeguard stationed at Coligny Beach Park, has fielded in the past from tourists on Hilton Head beaches — and a few questions she wouldn’t be surprised to get this weekend as tourists pour in for the Memorial Day holiday.
Rodenbeck is in her seventh season working for Shore Beach Service, an island-based company that patrols beaches, provides lifeguards and handles beach equipment rentals.
“Memorial Day is traditionally a sellout weekend for the island and the kickoff to our high season for visitation,” Charlie Clark, vice president of communications for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, said in an email.
A report by AAA estimated that about 38 million people will travel this holiday weekend nationwide, which would be the highest level since 2005.
The same report ranks Myrtle Beach as one of the top U.S. travel destinations. Although Hilton Head did not make that particular list, about 232,000 visitors traveled to the island last May, Clark said, adding she expects more visitors this month.
Mike Wagner, operations manager of Shore Beach Service, said beachgoers can expect a couple thousand people in the Coligny area this weekend, which isn’t unusual for the tourist season. There will be about 20 lifeguards stationed on tall chairs on beaches throughout the island, as well as sheriff’s deputies patrolling on ATVs.
Rodenbeck said she expects Coligny Beach will look like a “local music festival.”
“Two thousand (people) on weekends will be pretty constant through Labor Day,” she said.
“It’s pretty much jam-packed,” added Maddy Yemc, another Shore Beach Service lifeguard.
Aside from litter left after the crowd clears, the Memorial Day holiday also is expected to bring issues that accompany most weekends during tourist season, say beach workers. That includes alcohol use — which is prohibited on Hilton Head beaches — and beachgoers who bring their dogs, breaking an ordinance that bans pets between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting Friday through the Monday after Labor Day.
In addition, beachgoers often ask for sunscreen, water and umbrellas that they forgot to pack.
More seriously, some beachgoers will ask for help locating their wandering children.
“We’ll probably average 15 lost children per day,” Rodenbeck said about the Memorial Day weekend. “And that’s a low estimate.”
Rodenbeck said she has located every missing child within 15 minutes.
Rodenbeck urged parents to photograph their children in their beach attire at the start of the day. That way, if they go missing, the lifeguards know exactly who they are looking for. Often, she said, parents are frenzied and can’t recall what their child is wearing.
Overall, Rodenbeck, who has worked several Memorial Day holidays, is looking forward to the weekend. She said she loves meeting first-time tourists each summer.
“(Tourism) affects me in a positive way,” she said. “Whether it’s your first time or your 16th time, there’s always new things to do on the island.”