Growing up as a Muslim in America, I vaguely fantasized about one day seeing the ocean. But it appeared to be a pipe dream when I couldn’t even find a pool to go swimming in. I searched for women-only pools or days when facilities or parks would open for women only. It either didn’t exist or felt so uncomfortable.
The logistical issues seem insurmountable.
When beach-tripping, I want to keep myself entirely covered, but in a way that will actually let me swim. So many places don’t let you go in the water with a giant loose shirt on — you’re required to have actual “swimwear”. Once, I tried saying it was swimwear — the latest fashion I got from New York. It didn’t work, I still had to get out.
But it’s not just that basic need that gets in the way. It’s about not wanting other people to see you, and not wanting to see other people half-naked. It’s how to change and go to the bathroom when public bathrooms make your skin crawl. It’s needing to pray without any private place to do it. It’s keeping your damn hair successfully tucked back without the waves constantly tugging it all out. How!
By actually going to the beach and forcing myself to think up solutions, I have discovered ways to combat all of this for an easy, enjoyable day at the beach. Let’s dive in (hah)!
Solution #1: Swimwear That Works
I’ve learned that there’s actually a reason for the swimwear-only rule at the beach. I’ve gone swimming in loose clothing when I could sneak it in, and it turns out it’s really hard to float in anything but tight-fitting spandex. You can get away with it if you’re planning on using a flotation device, but the clothing really does get in the way.
The solution: a full-body swimsuit. The one I’ve found is sold on Amazon by Micosuza, and it’s great because it has pads to cover your chest, a decent hood that comes down over your forehead, and zips up all the way to your nose. It’s a godsend for trying to stay covered up. The only issue is that while it covers your skin, I still feel pretty exposed because it clearly shows your shape.
The solution to that: get along, thin wrap or robe to walk around in. You can take it off and leave it on the beach when you get in the water because nobody can see your body in the water anyway. It makes swimming so much easier, but also, since it’s actual swimwear, it dries off insanely quickly. Often, I don’t even need to change at the end of the day — I can just throw on a long shirt over it and go on back home.
Solution #2: Securing the Hair
Needing to keep my hair covered can honestly get so inconvenient, I often contemplate shaving it all off. Especially since my hair is thin and slippery, it constantly escapes any pins and buns and gets all over my face. At the beach in particular, with waves jostling you around way more than you’d expect, it only takes about five minutes until your carefully strapped down ensemble comes ripping out.
The real solution, though, is a swim cap. Only on my last trip to the beach a few weeks ago did I find this beauty. The Speedo silicone long-hair cap worked wonders — instead of trying to shove my hair back, again and again, every 3 minutes, I only ever had to adjust the flaps over my ears a few times. Getting a slightly larger size also helped because then it’s not so tight and headache-inducing.
The swim cap makes the biggest difference because it actually stays on — anything else will fly off and give you hell the entire time. As an added bonus, your hair will stay mostly dry, preventing a whole host of other headaches and struggles with logistics.
Solution #3: Avoiding the Crowds at the Beach
With the proper outfit secured, going to the beach even when it’s crowded is actually doable. You just have to cringe away from looking at the naked people. But I still prefer going when it’s empty because it just feels more comfortable that way — more modest.
Definitely, go on a weekday morning. The earlier you get there, the better. My preferred time is to be at the beach by 8am at the latest — it gives you a really good time to get preferential parking and set up camp wherever you like, carve out your own space. But also, far fewer people will be going at this time. So you can enjoy lots more empty space around you, and by the time the beach starts filling up in the afternoon, you’ve had your fill and can toddle on home by 3 — escaping the traffic again.
Solution #4: The Logistics of Changing on the Beach
Changing is the worst part. I hate public bathrooms and I hate changing clothes in a bathroom. I flail around, I lose balance. To do it in a gross public facility… no thanks. So I’ve generally found it’s best to avoid having to change at all. Get your gear on before you leave home, and throw on a big shirt and scarf on top, maybe cargo pants too. Get to the beach, take it all off, and dive in! When you want to go home, take a little bit of time to sit on the beach and relax, and let the sun dry you off (with the full body swimsuit, it shouldn’t take more than half an hour to feel relatively dry). Then just pull everything back on top and go straight back home.
However, comfort goes up a ton if you can change at the beach, because it means you can fix your wet, tangled hair, and get comfy for any activity you want to do before heading back home, like shopping or going out to eat. You can fix your hair in the bathroom, but I prefer to avoid even that. When this is the case, a beach umbrella with side flaps is a miracle. Simply clip a bedsheet over the open space, duck inside to your makeshift tent, and do your thing.
I wouldn’t recommend an actual tent, unless it has openings to let air through, because it’s hell to try and set up and the wind generally knocks it down anyway. The beach wind is strong! An actual beach umbrella is much easier. There are also changing tents you can get online — sort of like oversized pop up hampers that give you total privacy and ease of setting up. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but honestly, the umbrella is nice anyway because it gives you a great place to sit and relax on the beach, out of the sun and prying eyes.
Solution #5: Privacy for Praying on the Beach
I hate having to pray in public. It’s not like it is in Muslim countries, where there are mosques everywhere and you don’t feel weird or unsafe praying in a private corner of a mall or park. But you can’t skip prayer no matter how hard it is.
The best way I’ve found is to use the beach umbrella. It’s large and private enough that you can sling your bedsheet across and pray in total privacy. Also, if you live far away from the beach (which is likely) you can do the travelling/combination prayer. Combine dhuhr and asr, and only pray two rakahs each to make things super simple. You still have to pray three rakahs for maghrib, but that’s fine — you can do two for Isha if you’re staying at the beach that long.
Solution #6: Become One with the Sand
Changing can be extra difficult when you’re trying to get all the sand off first before pulling on fresh clothes. At some point, you’ll have to accept the sand — to do otherwise is to fight a losing battle. Just let it dry and change anyway. That helps it fall right off, usually by the time you get home.
And there you have it — even as a conservative Muslim, it is in fact possible to go to the beach successfully.