DESTIN — Rows of beach chairs sat empty by the June White Decker beach access Friday, while a few joggers made their way down the shoreline and a pair of snowbirds walked over the sand with a metal detector.
Condominiums nearby began cordoning off the private beaches in front of their buildings with signs and ropes, and a handful of beach service crews could be seen huddling under shady umbrellas.
The beaches were quiet, but that's about to change.
The first round of spring break is expected to start Saturday, with 10 colleges whose students visit the area begin spring break, including the University of Florida, Georgia Southern University and the University of Memphis. Preparations were being made Friday to handle the influx of visitors, and law enforcement has been gearing up since January to handle the crowds.
During spring break, the beaches that are quiet from October to February become crowded with coeds and their families wanting to enjoy a week in paradise. College flags are draped from beachfront balconies and beach chairs stake out semi-permanent spots in the sand. Last year, lifeguards in Walton and Okaloosa counties said spring break was as busy, if not more busy, than the previous Fourth of July weekend, and officials anticipate similar numbers in 2018.
Jon Usher, a recent college graduate, and his friend Jordan Neves, a college student, were the only two people occupying a pair of beach chairs in front of a condo complex near the Back Porch restaurant Friday. The friends said they were on a road trip and it was their first time in Destin.
“We’re probably going to go to PCB (Panama City Beach) tonight,” Neves said. “I’ve been to a lot of beaches before, and this one is really clean and really pretty.”
Georgia and Rick Williams of Ohio were standing near the beach access admiring the glassy water. The couple, who used to live in Destin when Rick was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, said they were visiting Destin for a week and would leave Saturday.
Georgia said she enjoyed the empty beach, but Rick said he liked the crowds.
“I like it when there are people here because I’m a people watcher — not just the women,” he said with a laugh and a glance at his wife. “I like watching people in general.”
On Okaloosa Island, only a few people were on the beach midday Friday. The area behind The Boardwalk was empty and white.
Caitlin Frizzell of Fort Walton Beach was on the beach with her two youngest children, 5-year-old Tynleigh and 3-year-old Hadley. She said she was soaking up one of the last slow days she could on the beach.
“I love it when it’s like this,” Frizzell said as Tynleigh and Hadley chased seagulls in the sand. “Winter is my favorite because it’s just calm and peaceful, and you can think and not worry about random people. It’s harder with kids when everybody is drinking. It makes me nervous.”