Tents on the beach

Light Speed tents

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
August 10, 2001

Standing about 5-feet tall and measuring 5-feet wide, the triangular giant baffled a team of curious researchers (OK, a photographer and me). We had seen these creatures before on grassy knolls, peaked mountains and even backyards. But we had never before seen them in such an incongruous location–the lakefront.

We are talking, of course, about lightweight tents and the clever folks who thought in advance to pitch them on the beach.

“I’ve been bringing tents to the beach for about the past 11 yearsever since my kids were babies,” says Arlington Heights native Sandra Toler. “It protects the kids from the sun and the rain, and they can take a nap inside if they get tired or just need to cool down.”

As Toler watched her kids frolic in the water at North Avenue Beach, it was evident that her neighbors had a serious case of tent envy.

“It’d be really nice to have a tent right about now,” says Melissa Ferry of Lakeview, looking at the bright tent parked just a couple feet from her. “I’m tempted to ask them if I can borrow theirs. I’m so hot.”

As strange as it may seem to bring a tent to the beach, it’s such a no brainer. We’re surprised more people aren’t doing it. Not only can the kids rest inside, but it also makes for a nice makeshift dressing room for those of you who don’t like driving around in wet bathing suits.

Tents are for teens, too. Theresa Blackman, 17, and Jerome Baker, 17, napped underneath a crisp, striped sheet and a cool Southside lakefront breeze a recent Sunday afternoon. The high-school seniors, who have dated for two years, were escaping from their un-air-conditioned homes, and little sisters, both 12, who wanted to tag along and cramp their style.

“My family knew I wanted a tent, so on my birthday, my grandmother gave me the money,” Theresa says, smoothing back her ponytail, which was disheveled when she was abruptly awakened from her slumber.

Jerome sprang for breakfast, although he brings chips and soda, sometimes. From there, they pitched the tent, spread the sheets, queued up a boombox for some R & B and rap music, and proceeded to while away the day in their cool, self-made haven.

“We come to the lakefront at least once a week,” Jerome says. “Sometimes we take walks and hold hands.”

Hurdie Styles and Lucy Shumpert had their beach strategy planned out from the get-go. For their day in the sun, the North Side residents bypassed North Avenue and Oak Street beaches for the relative tranquility of 63rd Street Beach. Armed with a tent, books and newspapers, the pair was prepared to stay until sundown.

As far as tough vegetation, they didn’t have to worry about foraging for food. They came prepared with a gourmet lunch of sushi, hummus and fresh strawberries, cherries and peaches.

“This is the first time we’ve brought a tent to the beach,” says Shumpert. “But it seemed like a good idea and were really liking the arrangement.”

Styles adds, “Were into comfort.”

Obviously. They even upped the ante by bringing a sheet to throw over the tent to keep things even more comfy inside.

***

Artifacts for a day at the beach:

Small, lightweight tents are allowed on the beach, but don’t even thinking about lugging a camping or event tent to any Chicago area beach without getting a permit first. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Include a change of clothing for everyone. Bring extra beach towels. One per person rarely is enough. Pack non-perishable snacks, such as fruit and veggies, chips and trail mix. Bring plenty of cold drinks for the kids. A First Aid kit always is advisable. A boombox with your favorite tunes.

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