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Tybee Island Water Gun Parade Quenches The Spirit

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By the time you read this, I will be laying out my arsenal for the world’s biggest water gun fight. A few years ago, I happened to be on Tybee Island during what is officially known as the Beach Bum Parade, an annual affair that is essentially a parade masquerading as a water gun fight. It began in 1987 and has become an annual affair that signals the beginning of the tourist season for this small island off the coast of Georgia.

Literally, all you do is stand on the side of the street along the parade route and shoot at the people on the floats and the people who pass by you and sometimes, if you’re bored, the people standing next to you. It really doesn’t matter what frame of mind you are in when it starts. If you are a participant, you will quickly lose any and all inhibitions as streams of water blast you from parade floats, passersby, and those people who are standing next to you, the ones you shot at when you got bored.

The parade floats are stripped down versions of their Fourth of July and Pirates Fest selves, many of them now nothing more than barriers of potted palms behind which the people on the floats can hide while they shoot at the crowds on the sidewalk. Because for this parade, they have to be built to withstand the onslaught from the onlookers on the street, who may be packing anything from pressurized Super Soakers to the backpacks that firefighters use to combat forest fires, to the lowly garden hose that homeowners along the parade route drag out to the street, while providing the people on them with enough water to last the entire parade.

I learned pretty quickly that the most important thing to have was a decent water supply. Five gallons of water is the absolute minimum you need to really get into the spirit of things, because you will find yourself shooting at a lot more targets that you might have initially anticipated. The first time I was there, I rolled my eyebrows at the pickup trucks up and down the street, pickup trucks whose owners had seen fit to line their beds with plastic before filling them with hundreds of gallons of water and bags of ice. My bemusement turned to envy when I ran out of water while these guys reloaded their weapons with abandon.

I have squirted old ladies in wheel chairs and heard them squeal with delight before shooting me back with water guns they kept hidden in their laps.  I’ve been surrounded by second and third graders whose aim was true, causing me to howl in a delicious agony as cold water cascaded down my sopping wet shirt and swim trunks. Children seem to especially love this parade, because they get to shoot at grownups. In fact, they are encouraged to shoot at grownups who look dry, and all teenaged girls who look like they might scream when the water hits them. Everybody from the mayor to the local bigwigs to the man on the street joins in the fun. In less than an hour, everybody is wet, the streets are drenched, and the police are chucking as they keep an eye on things to make sure they don’t get out of hand. 

Any tension you might have had at the beginning will be vanquished by the constant streams of water hitting your body. It is the first blast, though, that is the most enervating, the first icy blast of water in your chest or down your back that snaps you alive. Before long, you will be reduced to basic survival mode—shoot or be shot. Load and reload. Anything you might have on your mind from work will evaporate, especially if the people shooting at you are reloading from a cooler that also contains their Bud Ice. 


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