Sun, Surf and Sand
Imagine a giant sandbox that goes on for miles and miles, located right next to the world's largest swimming hole, with nothing but blue waves and white crystal sand as far as the eye can see. No, you are not dreaming - this is a description of the sunny beaches located off the North Carolina coast, and kids just like you have been coming to vacation on these beaches for generations. After all, who doesn't love the cool combination of waves and surf, sandy feet and sun? But, before you pack up the sunscreen and the surf boards, you might start to wonder what's out there to discover on the shore, and what to do both on and off the sand. Well, believe it or not, there are tons of answers, and the fun starts the second you step onto the beach.
A shovel, a bucket, and nothing but sand can certainly make the perfect start to a great day at the beach. Use a piece of driftwood to etch out shapes along the shore, or write your name in letters so large that every passing helicopter or airplane will pause to see your message.
If your parents will oblige, you can even turn mom and dad into a veritable work of art by burying them up to their elbows in sand and then sculpting sand shapes around them. You might want to ask them first, of course, as not all moms and dads like to be buried in sand (and this goes for little brother and sisters too!)
Once you have them buried, break out the sand tools, like buckets, shells, and pebbles, and start decorating! A few stone scales and a fin, and dad will make the perfect mermaid, or you can design a new "sand bathing suit" for mom with colorful seashells. Whatever you do, just make sure you have a camera so you can take pictures.
Head down to the shoreline, right at the edge of where the waves are washing in, and start digging. Chances are that sooner or later, you will notice small pink crabs digging next to you. Don't be scared - these little critters are called "sand diggers," or mole crabs, and they are perfectly harmless. With a hard, sandy gray shell and pink sides and belly, these guys don't look like an everyday crab, but with their 8 small legs that are almost always moving, they can burrow into the sand with the best of them as they look for food or a temporary shelter from the crashing waves.
Look underneath, and you will spot next to their legs their small antenna, and on some mole crabs, a bright orange spot. Believe it or not, this orange clump is an egg sack carried by the female mole crabs in the summer. It's fine to pick them up and put them back down to watch them furiously dig into the beach, but be careful - these little guys are fast, but their shell is very delicate.
Watching the mole crabs digging away might inspire you to grab your own shovel and start creating a masterpiece of your own, and what better way to get your hands dirty than by building a sandcastle?
Of course, you don't need many supplies to build a perfectly good sandcastle. A bucket and a shovel can make a castle anyone would be proud of, but if you want to try something a little different, take a couple utensils with you when you trek out to the beach, like a butter knife, spoon and fork. You can use the spoon and knife to cut out tiny windows and doors, and the fork can make squiggly decorations all around the castle walls.
The dirtiest and the most delicate castles are "mud castles." These are created by taking a big gob of watery sand, and letting the little drops of water slip through your fingers into the sand. You'll find as the water and sand mixture drips onto the beach, it will create unique little castles in just a matter of seconds. There's no wrong way to make a mud castle, so this kind of castle is perfect for all ages.
For the masters of the castle craft, there are many sandcastle building contests held along the North Carolina Coast each year. In Wrightsville Beach, early September offers the annual "Castles & Scoops" sandcastle building contest, which happily combines sandcastle building and ice cream sundaes, sponsored by the Children's Museum of Wilmington. On the Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk Kites hosts an annual sandcastle building contest in August in Kill Devil Hills, and Ocracoke Island kicks off their 4th of July celebration with a castle building contest as well. Visit local visitors' bureaus for more information and other castle contests that coincide with your beach vacation.
Of course, the fun doesn't stop on the sand, and a hot day at the beach gets a lot cooler with a dip in the ocean. An inflatable raft can go a long way with keeping you afloat, and of course, there's nothing like water Frisbee or volleyball to get everyone involved in the fun.