Constructing Sand Walls and Other Forms of Entertainment at the Outer Banks

Laura, McKenna, and I got back to Midlothian from Caseville, Michigan on August 1st, with just enough time to cut the lawn and do the laundry before we left for the beach vacation with my family at Frisco on Hatteras Island on Sunday, August 4th. Our Sunday beach rental enabled us to avoid the terrible Outer Banks traffic of the Saturday beach rentals, and by early afternoon, we reached the beach house.

The beach rental company was still cleaning our house when we got down there, and we knew that we might not be able to get into the house until 4pm. Typically, though, the cleaning is done earlier than four, and we headed to the beach with a minimum of supplies. This time, though, 4pm came and went, with the rental company only telling us that some kind of “inspector” had to review the house before we could get in, but guaranteeing that we would be in by five. This was good news, because back on the beach, supplies were running out.

Don’t make them hungry. You wouldn’t like them when they’re hungry.

The inspector never showed, but at five, the rental company let us in anyway.


Filling us all with confidence about the state of this uninspected bathroom.

Most beach days are more predicatble than this first day was, and there is a beach day routine that we fell into. Typically, this would start with the children waking up and watching some kind of YouTube video, often of someone doing their nails. An adult would wander into the room, and say something alomg the lines of, “What is this garbage?!”


Followed by the adult being sucked in by the video and watching ten minutes of DIY nail design.

After breaking the mezmerizing spell of YouTube, preparations would be made to head to the beach.


With some preparations being more involved than others.



I’m a helper.

You may be thinking, “It’s an ocean. How much could it change in 24 hours?” When you ask that kind of question, the riptide wins. The first two days we were in Hatteras, the water was at its warmest, and the area between the breakers and the sand bar was super calm and clear.

By midweek, a series of thunderstorms and a shift in wind had made the water a lot rougher.


It was now rough enough that getting to the area past the breakers to pee was a challenge, so sacrifices had to be made.

Still, whether the water was rough or calm, there was a lot of entertainment on the beach. Even with the routine nature of the beach day, something interesting and out of the ordinary occurred on the beach.

Like this freakish circular rainbow on a day with no rain.

Or the equally freakish “Migratory people huddled under an unsecured beach umbrella”


Or the almost as freakish “People who read standing back-to-back in the surf so they can be prepared in case they are suddenly surrounded by ninjas.”

These people should have known better than to publicize such strange behavior; we kept most of our bizarre behavior away from the public beach.


If the people-watching on the beach isn’t entertaining enough, we could fall back on another favorite activity – the construction of massive sand walls and holes, something that we are serious enough about that we brought not one but two trenching shovels to Frisco with us.

Just like the back-to-bacl beach readers, we were prepared in case we were surrounded by foes and needed to dig an impromptu fox hole.

As the tide came in each day, rather than relocate our beach chairs and umbrellas, and rather than maintaining our mobility by carrying the umbrella around as the migratory umbrella people did, we chose to reshape the beach with large defensive walls and deep pits.

A side effect of this use of sand were large sand holes that the kids could play in.

Most of the time, this worked out well.

But since children are programmed by nature to ruin all good things, this inevitably led to conflicts over the beach holes. One such conflict, the 2019 Great War of the Hole, began because of a dispute over the property rights to the location depicted below.


Kyle claimed the sole right of access to the hole because, he argued, he had constructed the hole entirely “by myself.” It’s possible this was not altogether true.

The children were, of course, sympathetic to Kyle’s claim to the hole.


And so Kyle learned a painful lesson that day: that possession of sand holes is 9/10 of the law.



The thousand-yard stare of a soldier who has seen too many sand holes pass before their time.


Some of the conflicts over prime sand hole real estate were more passive aggressive than the Great War. As the tide came in, the formerly high-value holes closer to the surf were swallowed up, and the holes to the rear gained value. Some of the children recognized this and claimed territory farther from the ocean while the value was low, kind of like Lex Luthor claiming territory east of the San Andreas Fault in Superman I.


Fortunately, the kids were too busy watching DIY nail videos to study Lex Luthor’s methods for accelerating real estate appreciation.


Any minute now, suckers.

Sometimes Tabby’s hole positioning was a bit on the extreme side.


Another part of the routine was to either catch cousins and siblings in between beach conflicts, or, if that failed, have them simulate friendliness, and then take social media-friendly photographs to prove to everyone back home that we were having an awesome time.

Catching the kids before they engaged in disputes over the nature of beach property rights was essential.

Even with this simple activity, the low effort level of some people betrayed that their hearts were just not in it.


Getting up from the chair was a dealbreaker.

When we returned to the beach house, we would make dinner and then have some kind of in-house dessert, as the long Abbott history of unfortunate trips for ice cream had taught us that this was the safest way to enjoy treats.

We kept the treats safe by storing them near the dishwasher, knowing that no child would look in this area.

During our first attempt at sundae making a few years ago, we let the children choose their own sundae toppings. The resulting overloaded sundaes drove the children into a sugar-fueled, beachhouse-wrecking frenzy, so this time the adults distributed the toppings.


Unlike the beach holes, these toppings were not subject to property rights and were instead distributed equally by the state. TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS NEEDS!


This socialism is delicious!


Even with adults regulating the dispensing of ice cream and toppings, some of the kids couldn’t finish their sundaes.

“Batting cleanup, MARK ABBOTT!!!”

Finally, those of us not imobilized by sugar poisoning, traumatized by property disputes,  or too exhausted from digging sand holes took evening walks on the beach.



And here you have the most wholesome picture that Scott has ever been a part of. We made history people!


Wholesome joy or beach squatters cackling over the latest violation of sand hole rights?

Rather than allowing this beach routine to turn the vacation stale, we took steps to shake up the status quo from time to time. For instance, instead of building walls and competing for control over holes in Frisco, we decided on Friday to take the ferry to Ocracoke and do all of those things on another island.

The start of the Ocracoke excursion was a bit rough. I misread the ferry schedule, and we arrived at 7:50 for a ferry that I believed would depart at 8:00 but which actually departed at 8:35, putting my marriage with Laura in jeopardy since I had needlessly forced her to wake up before 7am on summer vacation. However, our early arrival ultimately paid off, because the backup for the ferry was bad enough that we were the very last car on the ferry. Scott and Katy missed getting on by a single car.

That wasn’t the positive reinforcement for Scott and Katy’s rare punctuality that we were hoping for.

For those of us who made the ferry and who didn’t have children under the age of 5, the ferry was an enjoyable experience.

Not pictured: Alex, Stephen, and their under-five children.

After close to an hour on the ferry, we disembarked and drove to the public beach at Ocracoke.

At its best, the Ocracoke beaches are flat enough that numerous large tidepools formed during low tide. That was not the case on this trip, as there were no tidepools to be found, but the basin between the shore and the sandbar where the tidepools used to form was easy enough to swim in that virtually everyone gave it a shot.

The Ocracoke water was somehow chillier than the water in Frisco, and from time to time the ocean was, for Ocracoke, uncharacteristically choppy. For most of our time there, we stayed on shore and did the usual – building sand walls and digging holes – rather than swimming.


Like all of our trips to Ocracoke, we eventually visited the Slushy Stand for ice cream.

Continuing the Slushy Stand’s amazing streak of two consecutive Abbott visits without a mishap.

Another change of pace on the vacation was to visit the Pamlico Sound, a bay between Hatteras Island and mainland North Carolina.

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 8.47.03 PM.png

After a few rough ocean days, something had to give.


The choice was either to find calmer waters or, as Scott put it, sacrifice the children to the angry ocean and see how that turned out.

About a mile and a half from the beach house was a sandy part of the Sound, where calm waters could be found.

And no child sacrifice was needed. As far as we knew.

In addition to being calm, the Sound is also super shallow for quite a ways from the shore.

And the lack of significant tidal changes reduced the urgency of laying claim to holes on the beach.

We also shook things up by having a variety of talent competitions and shows. One afternoon, I had the children compete to make sand faces. Nathan and McKenna had some strong entries.

But ultimately, the contest was won by Scott.

Suck it, children!

Clearly, if the kids wanted to experience success, they would have to organize a children-only talent event.

McKenna is genetically programmed to organize talent shows, so she was pretty comfortable with the attention.


Others were a bit less so.


But they were good to go once they found their groove.


Flossing. It’s always flossing.

The show went well; too well. All of the children were happy, and we had not yet had our obligatory daily child meltdown.


Problem solved.

Cue the meltdown by every child under five, as they were unable to go in the pool this close to bedtime.

Sounds like a good time for parents of over five children to escape to the beach and perfect their own talents.



One thought on “Constructing Sand Walls and Other Forms of Entertainment at the Outer Banks

  1. Pingback: Beach Questions and Answers During a Trip to the Outer Banks | Endless Odyssey

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