There are times when I am so happy to get wet on Tybee Island that I could eat a spoonful of sand.
I'm not just talking about the run-of-the-mill, it's-hot-as-Hades-let's-go-to-the-beach kind of moments, which will obviously be taking place every single sizzly minute starting now until October.
I mean at 11:49 a.m. on New Year's Day, when you're faceflat on the floor and the sound of dustbunnies quivering in the line of your ragged breath is enough to crush your skull and the people that love you drag your sorry hungover self to the pier for the Polar Plunge, where even though you want to smack all the smiling idiots in their tutus and Spiderman outfits, you allow yourself be swept into the frigid sea and be reminded that this year is, in fact, going to be the best one ever.
Then there is that Friday afternoon every spring in mid-May, when it becomes socially acceptable — nay, publically sanctioned — to shoot strangers in the schnozzola with a hydrobolic water launcher. I must admit, for a long time I thought the Tybee Island Beach Bum Parade was an immature and bourgeois pantomime of unchecked redneck aggression. But after many years of sulking in a plastic poncho as grandmas screamed with glee as they unleashed 30-foot streams of water to souse their favorite children, I realized that immersing oneself in a little immaturity is the secret of eternal youth.
Now my entire family, armed with double-barreled Stream Machines, barricades a section of Butler Avenue and defends it like those strapping young French revolutionaries in Les Miserables. (A pox on all of you with the ice buckets! You hear me, Mark Fulkerson? We are coming for you next year!)
But full-on saturation doesn't have to hold drama or pain to be special. It is possible to get wet on Tybee and have the experience be as gentle and kind as floating down the Back River.
Settle in on your inner tube, paddleboard or kickass pontoon made of recycled plastic water bottles: This Sunday, June 2 starts the season of Tybee Floatilla, a series of homegrown fundraisers that involve nothing icier than what's bobbing next to you in the cooler.
Starting just before dead low tide, these buoyant parties of several hundred drop in at the end of the dirt track known as Alley 3 and follow the current out to a secret sandbar, pristine and wholesome in every way save its name: Criminal Island. (As far as I can tell there are no actual criminals present, unless we are counting violations of good taste. I'm not saying that wearing a neon thong past the age of 50 warrants jail time, but dear Lord, there should at least be a fine.)
After a bit of fun and frolic, the water pushes everyone off again to the Crab Shack, where there will be hopefully many congratulatory fist bumps on how everyone put on enough sunscreen. The whole trip takes four hours and costs $30 — for your cash you get a wristband, a snazzy coozie for your favorite beverage, a sweet limited edition t-shirt and the satisfaction that while you've been lolling around in an old tire you've just filled the coffers of Savannah's best local charities.
Since Floatilla's inception in 2011, organizer Brian Stafford has raised over $38,000 for dozens of good works brigades like the Second Harvest Food Bank, Surfers for Autism and the Tybee Historical Society. He hopes to garner almost that much with this summer's seven Floatillas by bringing in sponsors like Mermaid Cottages and Savannah Slow Ride, an endeavor that has upped the workload of a growing event that began as a lazy cruise between friends.
A former lifeguard and Savannah firefighter, Stafford has hung up his firefighting gear since last summer to concentrate on planning events full time, including the intriguing "5K pirate obstacle course" billed as Beach Derby on October 12.
"I'm working on unique, fun events to do during the day," says Stafford, whose three-day beard and healthy tan reveal a relaxed satisfaction with his new venture.
Sunday's Floatilla is set to honor Frank Schuman, Sr., the adored Tybee City Council member and all-around water lover who suffered a fatal heart attack last September, right after the last Floatilla of the season. Monies raised will benefit Schuman's favorite charities: Coastal Pet Rescue, the Tybee Beautification Association and the Tybee Marine Center.
"Everyone knew Frank. If you strayed off from the other floaters, he'd come get you on his jet ski and pull you back in with everyone else," Stafford sighs, dropping his head for a moment.
On that fateful Sunday, Schuman had been good-naturedly rescuing wayward folks throughout the afternoon. He was driving his beloved boat around sunset when a couple of neighbors saw him fall in the water. Paramedics could not resuscitate him, and Tybee Island was forced to unexpectedly mourn the loss of one of its most passionate and gracious citizens.
A longtime friend of the family, Stafford shakes off the sadness with a definitive nod. Frank passed with a big splash, after all.
"It was the way he would have wanted to go."
A reminder that the current of life takes us in so many different directions. Blessed are those among us who do what they love and help others along the way.
It seems right then to distinguish any of the aqueous Floatillas as a literal and figurative cruise towards a more mellow and generous world.
But so help me, if you're thinking it will be funny to dump that cooler full of ice anywhere near my head, I've got a hyberbolic payload with your name on it.Hey! You must register to float here.