Clear skies and plenty of sunshine the afternoon of Aug. 19 set the stage for the 2014 University of North Carolina Wilmington Beach Blast.
Early forecasts predicted a smattering of afternoon thunderstorms, posing a threat to the longstanding end-of-summer celebration for students. With weather permitting, Jon Kapell, director for campus activities and involvement with UNCW, estimated that 4,400 students came out to swim and soak up the sun for one last hurrah before classes started Aug. 20.
“It’s just a wonderful tradition for students to engage in every year. They look forward to it. The weather has held out for us this year, which has been a wonderful thing,” Kapell said.
Inclement weather cancelled the Beach Blast in 2006 and 2012.
Cloud-free skies posed a need for new precautions, though. With temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, Kapell said staff focused on keeping students safe from the heat.
“We have to remind students to hydrate,” Kapell said.
Approximately 1,600 students arrived at the beach via a shuttle service, provided to alleviate congestion on island streets. Staff members checked students at the shuttle pick-up for alcohol, and again at the entrance near the Oceanic Restaurant.
The university partnered with the town to maintain order and safety on the beach, contracting three officers through the Wrightsville Beach Police Department in addition to 25-30 UNCW staff members and 11 security officers roving through the crowd.
Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said no civil penalties or citations were issued by police officers at the event, but officers did arrest two students.
UNCW students Benjamin Pierce and Brittany Turner were arrested on charges of being intoxicated and disruptive. House said the two individuals began arguing with UNCW staff when Turner was admitted to the event but Pierce was not.
“Basically, these two got into a verbal confrontation with UNCW staff trying to gain entry to the Beach Blast,” House said. “Both of them were intoxicated, saying things to the staff and cursing, so they decided to arrest them.”
House said arrests at the event are uncommon.
“Most of the years we’ve been there, it’s a non-event. We may have issued a couple civil citations but we haven’t arrested anybody,” he said.
House commended the UNCW staff for the work they do to encourage students to stay sober and follow the rules.
“They’re fantastic. They do a great job and try to educate everybody, let everybody know the rules,” House said.
Wrightsville Beach Park Ranger Shannon Slocum also maintained a presence during the event. He said attention focused at the entrance kept things calmer on the beach. He patrolled the area around the beach, especially nearby house parties and parking lots.
Slocum reported writing one citation for littering after he saw students at a house party on Nathan Street throw orange peels into the street.
Slocum said a heavy staff presence of beach safety officials sent a signal to students new to the area that rules are enforced at Wrightsville Beach.
“A lot of it is just visibility. It’s a reminder that we’re pretty diligent as far as patrolling these areas out here,” Slocum said.
Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue also kept an eye on the waters, with six or seven lifeguards on duty in the area.
The UNCW chapter of the Surfrider Foundation organizes a beach sweep after the event each year. President Mae Henry said leaving the beach cleaner than they found it is a way of thanking the town.
“It’s really good to leave the image to the town that UNCW cares, that we care about the beaches and we appreciate them letting us use this,” Henry said.