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Location: Topsail Beach Access

Research Question: What motivates young adults to use this beach, and how has COVID-19 impacted these activities and this population?




Hello, I’m Sydney Hardee and I’m a freshman studying media and journalism at UNC Chapel Hill. For a place called Surf City, there’s not much surfing going on. The location I chose is a regular spot for many locals here because of the closed-in nature of the island. I did my research on what motivates young adults to use the Topsail Beach Public Access, and how COVID-19 has impacted these activities and this population.




The beach is a public outdoor location and “by contrast, the cultural sphere invokes the realm of private life and leisure pursuits. But as it has been noted often, this distinction only holds as a kind of principle. In practice, the private world of culture gives rise to its own forms of politics – not decision-maker politics and the state, but identity politics and social movements” this is from The Public Sphere On The Beach by Hartley and Green. This brings light to how different someone’s identity can be in different locations with a specific distinction on public and private settings.




On Tuesday September 29 I completed my first observation.

I showed up at 12:30pm and decided that I would specifically try to gather details about how much identity even means to this location. As I walk I see people wearing minimal clothing or clothes specifically manufactured for fishing, swimming, and running. There are both middle aged and young adult fishermen everywhere, but identities like age don’t seem to matter much outside of their own personal identity, and no one else really seems to care what others are doing at the beach. The whole time I was there I knew people could see me, but I felt a million miles away at the same time, as if I were to get hurt I would be safe, but if I wanted to remain unnoticed it would be easy. During the time I’ve been here I’ve have had to consider the larger implications of being in a new biome. I’m from the Piedmont but now I’m exploring the people of the coastal region. There is certainly much more space to explore than in High Point, more for the young adults to do as a whole, back home we go to Cook Out and hang out in parking lots for fun, here these people have a large outdoor space at their disposal at all times.


Then that Saturday from 8:30am – 9:00am I revisited my site.

I went to the beach much earlier because of how hot it was last time and I wondered if I missed a lot of people by coming that late and during the heat of the day. It was also personally more refreshing to be out of the house at that time in the morning as it was a relaxing start to my day. There are way more people taking walks and exercising on the beach this time. Personally, I felt far less self conscious walking on the beach early because I didn’t have to walk in front of as many people just lounging. I saw lots of young women in running clothes and listening to music. I also saw many middle aged men coming out to fish again. There also weren’t nearly as many families there in the morning. There were, however, a lot of young couples dressed for the beach who were walking their dogs. A woman walked by me in normal clothes and she definitely stood out because she was not in athletic clothes or beach attire. The couples with dogs were keeping them away from everyone when I assume people would normally be allowed to come up to say hello and pet them.



Overall, young adults from this area go to the beach to fish for sport and relaxation rather than necessity or for a business. Those who show up to the beach with more advanced gear I assume either have more money or come to the beach regularly. The clothes and accessories are explicit because they’re sold for the specific purpose of an activity and they’re only used for one specific thing in most cases and depending on how worn out they are or what brand they are could show how often someone does that activity. The beach has lots of room and beach activities are usually solo or for leisure so my best guess is that they would be separated regardless, this could be a great motivation to go to the beach during a time where everyone is supposed to practice social distancing. An escape from identity may be a large part of why young adults come to the beach, if someone doesn’t want to face scrutiny or judgement a place where people come to relax and don’t really care would be a great place to go. The ocean has been adapted for many different sports and activities and the sand is naturally a large space with room for several different groups at the same time which can make this secluded space also feel social and active because of the amount of people present. If someone was not exercising then clothes that aren’t made for the beach would definitely seem odd, though no one would really mind it due to the non-confrontational environment created by the sheer magnitude of space and the relaxation created by the waves and heat. There is also a high chance that more people exercise in the morning to also avoid the feeling of people looking at them even if no one really seems to judge here. The beach is also portrayed in media as a romantic spot for love and romance and the younger couples walking dogs are a clear example of this.



To conclude, the beach is a great place for young adults to visit to escape from the scrutiny that most public spheres seem to have. Especially during the time of COVID-19 where everyone can come and be surrounded by people, yet maintain a large distance no matter what.


Resource Page

Green, J. and Hartley, J., 2006. The Public Sphere On The Beach. Hal Archives. [Accessed September 24 2020].


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