Western Kentucky University students, Tyler Smith and Emily Sunderland, weren't worried about the heavy patrolling at Whale's Tail during their spring break recently. Not because they weren’t of age or because they lacked clever disguises for their alcohol, but simply because they don't drink.
Amidst the sea of breakers, the two co-eds and friends looked like any other group of spring breakers, complete with their school's flag waving in the wind. But for these students, spring break couldn't be more different from what you see on TV and in the newspapers.
"My alcohol-free spring break was tons of fun, and I can still remember it," said Smith.
The 21-year-old atmospheric science major has spent past spring breaks in Destin and Fort Walton Beach before and decided to come back when the campus ministry, Camps Crusade for Christ, made plans to head to Walton County.
"We had church service in the mornings; most days we hung out on the beach for a few hours and played a little Frisbee, football or volleyball," Smith said. "We also got together two nights out of the week and a group of guys would cook for the ladies."
At Whale's Tail, Smith and Sunderland along with Campus Crusade for Christ, set up a tent and gave out free hot dogs to meet fellow spring breakers. Sunderland said she was able to have "some pretty cool" conversations with other students.
"We just wanted to reach out to people and get to know a little bit about their lives — ultimately show love to those on the beach," said the 20-year-old nursing major. "Everyone out on the beach was being social, so we thought 'Why not go out and socialize with all the beach goers.' "
Even at 21, Smith has never taken a drink of alcohol. He said he'd like to be an example to others.
"I don't believe drinking is wrong, but getting drunk is wrong," he said. "Staying away from beer completely is just avoiding the temptation to get drunk and prevents me from doing something stupid I would also regret."
While Smith noted that Destin was less on the wild side compared to Panama City, he still saw plenty of spring breakers doing regrettable things.
"I saw a guy run for about 15 minutes around the beach from the police and another guy was so wasted that he tried using his unprotected iPhone to take underwater pictures," he recalled.
Squished in the middle of the party, surveying the breakers with homemade funnels in hand, Smith wasn't tempted to imbibe with the rest of the crowd.
"Watching all of the drunken co-eds on the beach definitely enforced my decision in staying alcohol free," he said. "I can have more fun sober-minded than I ever could drinking."
When it comes to the heavy police presence, Smith was appreciative of Walton County's efforts to keep the area safe. Sunderland hopes it sends a message to underage drinkers.
"It might caution people to see that sometimes the situations you find yourself in while drinking underage just aren't worth it," she said. "Sometimes the decisions we make in the present affect us for the rest of our lives. It's just a good idea to be careful."
"Choosing not to drink and being able to remember your whole spring break can be just as much fun, if not more."