Here’s the dream.
You and your groom are exchanging vows beneath a blue sky on a Hilton Head Island beach, set against the intoxicating backdrop of a gentle sea breeze, the rolling surf and a gorgeous sunset.
Here’s the reality: That gentle sea breeze is often called “wind,” and it can whip that sand, your decorations and your perfect hairdo all over the place. The blue sky is not always blue; in fact, sometimes it leaks water all over your wedding. The rolling surf can make it difficult for guests to hear you say “I do.” Oh, and if you want the sun to be setting over the water while you wed, you’re on the wrong coast altogether.
A wedding on the beach can be a truly romantic event, but couples who want such a wedding need to understand all that comes — and goes — with an event at the water’s edge. Here’s a start.
Wind is often an unseen yet deeply felt part of a couple’s beach ceremony. “With wind noise off the ocean, it’s often difficult to hear the ceremony. I recommend placing the chairs in more of a long, orchestra-style seating so the majority of the guests can enjoy the service,” says Leah McCarthy, owner of Weddings With Leah.
The Fix: Skip the unity candle, which most likely won’t stay lit anyway, and make sure that veil is securely fastened. Also, hire a team of professionals to set up any décor you’re bringing; they’ll know how to make sure everything stays in place.
It never rains in bridal magazine advertisements, but it does in real life. Consider yourselves warned.
The Fix: Pray for sun, but plan for rain. “You cannot control your weather,” says Serena Crumley of Concierge & Co. “You do not do a beach wedding without a Plan B.”
Heat and Humidity
Anyone who knows anything about Lowcountry summers knows there’s no sea breeze in the world that can make an outdoor July wedding comfortable.
“If it’s too bloody hot, (guests) can’t stand it. They’re going to be miserable and your pictures are going to be terrible,” Crumley says.
The Fix: Think early spring or late fall for a beach wedding, and spend the summer in the water — or inside — like the rest of us. If timing deems it necessary for a summer beach wedding, Amanda Spencer of Spencer Special Events recommends giving guests some means of fanning themselves — and having plenty of bottled water available.
Tides and Surf
Many couples who aren’t from around here don’t understand the concept of tides or just how different the same beach can look and sound (and smell) in a 12-hour span.
“A lot of girls forget first and foremost about the tide schedule. That’s something we really have to take into account,” says Spencer.
The Fix: Understand that nature does not stop for your nuptials. And think of ways to ensure guests will be able to hear what’s happening over the surf — like a battery pack for musicians who will be playing presumably without electricity.
Some couples envision a ceremony on their own private beach, of which the island has none outside of gated communities and private beachfront homes. Or they want a platform built on the sand, or lit tiki torches or an oceanside cocktail hour — all of which go against beach restrictions set by the Town of Hilton Head Island.
The Fix: Work with a local wedding planner who is familiar with town ordinances and will find compromises when possible.
You need very little to set the mood when you’re saying “I do” on the beach. Yet many brides want to traipse a church-load of decorations onto the sand. “If God wanted arbors on the beach he would have put them there,” says Ellen Starling of Amanda Rose Weddings in Bluffton.
The Fix: You can decorate but keep it simple, wedding planners say. You don’t want to have things that are going to fall over or compete with the setting’s natural beauty.
“(Sand gnats) can be totally fierce,” says Linda Smreczak, owner of Amanda Rose Weddings. She remembers one bride who insisted on wearing heavy perfume on her wedding day, against Smreczak’s advice, and was covered in bites from head to toe by the end of the ceremony. “She never, ever swatted a fly, she was such a trooper,” Smreczak says. “But afterwards she just smiled and said to me, ‘I should have listened to you.’”
The Fix: Have bottled bug spray or towelettes available to all who are bothered by them, and hold off on the scented creams and heavy perfumes until after you’ve left the beach.
Some brides insist on going formal by the seaside, but most, Spencer says, understand the laid-back atmosphere calls for a more laid-back style.
“The bride who wants to wear the heels is typically someone who’s getting married on a pavilion that’s near the beach, not on the beach,” Spencer says.
The Fix: Leave the heels and black tuxedos at home. Think “casually elegant” when it comes to attire, and allow your grateful guests to follow suit.
Couples getting married on the beach are susceptible to little extras that “ordinary” weddings don’t have, like errant Frisbees careening through the crowd and, almost without exception, scantily clad gawkers.
The Fix: Be ready to go with the flow — and laugh when necessary.