No one know just how many years the annual spontaneous gathering of LDS singles at Duck Beach has been taking place. Educated guesses are anywhere from 20-30 years that LDS singles, primarily from the Washington, DC area have been descending upon “Duck Beach” in North Carolina over Memorial Day weekend.
Rumor has it that the tradition began with one singles ward (from the DC area), camping in the area over the holiday weekend. One thing lead to another over the years, and now the numbers are closer to 1,000 LDS singles on one beach each year. While the tradition began among the singles of the Washington, DC area, it has spread in popularity across the country, and even the world. Singles fly and drive in from all over the Eastern seaboard, Utah, California, and even Europe to attend the “spontaneous” gathering.
What makes this gathering of singles so interesting is that there is no organizing party or entity behind it. With the exception of the originating singles ward so many years ago, (a ward that no longer exists), no one force creates or carries this tradition forward. It is a “spontaneous” annual gathering of singles that has lasted at least two decades. Friends come together to rent out high-end beach houses along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to enjoy each other's company, flirt, laugh, and make new friends. There are no sponsors, formal advertisers, official events, or even an official Facebook page for the completely informal event.
It has come to be known as the “Mormon Spring Break” of sorts what with one thousand singles, beach volleyball tournament, hot tubbing, and late night parties- all enjoyed sober and in one piece bathing suits. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is the perfect setting for this gathering. It is a “family-friendly” beach area, with large rental beach houses, instead of hotels. There is no boardwalk, and few restaurants, and even fewer bars. The beach is more about activities centered around the individual homes, which usually each have a grill, pool and a hot tub.
Over the years different traditions and activities have emerged. In 2011, a team of young New York filmmakers documented the phenomenon, and debuted the film, “Duck Beach to Eternity” recently at the Seattle International Film Festival. The film has come to be known by other unofficial names such as the “Duck-umentary” and “Mormons Gone Mild,” as was the name CNN chose to use when describing it on the Erin Burnett OutFront show last week
As can be expected, the weekend is marked specifically by singles seeking new friends and companions. But the parties, cookouts, walks, swimming, acoustic nights, movie nights, and hot-tubbing, all come to a halt on Sunday morning when 1,000 extra visitors attend the small Nags Head Branch. The branch handles the extreme influx with grace, and hosts a special meeting to accommodate their annual guests. They invite speakers and participants from the Washington, DC area to assist in sacrament meeting. And this year, for the first time, the branch rented out a local middle school gym for Sunday services, rather than attempt to shoehorn everyone into their small chapel.
As the years pass, new events have popped up. This year one new (and this writer hopes, fruitful) activity was a fundraiser held by the Nags Head Branch young men and young women during the annual beach volleyball tournament. (The location of the tournament serves as the gathering spot on the beach for the large gathering.) Burgers, chips, drinks, and even t-shirts, were sold to benefit the youth.
Another new development is a small and informal conference hosted by the John Adams Society. Beginning with a fireside on Sunday night featuring Ralph Hancock, Terryl Givens and his wife Fiona, and on Monday morning with several other speakers and a panel discussion, topics of interest regarding politics and freedom were discussed. The event was held in a large and beautiful beach home and free to attend.
It is an interesting phenomenon that year after year this group returns to the beach together without formal organization. But it is the lack of organization and formal structure that helps add to the magic of the weekend. For singles that live in more remote locations that must travel to meet other singles, in spite of the best intentions of organizers, an attendee can feel like the “odd man out” or like they don't fit within a formal set up. No organization means no one is left out, and no one missed a memo, because there was no memo. The gathering is a great alternative to formal conferences that revolve around a written agenda, budget, and a committee's objectives. The ability to get together with like-minded people with the only “objective” of having fun without a purpose, is rare and unusual, as well as welcomed by busy singles with active careers.
It is nothing short of amazing that an unorganized gathering has lasted (and grown) over the years without an entity stepping in to attempt to control or shape it. And it is a testament to LDS upbringing that a large group of people can gather together, trust each other to act and behave in a certain manner, and to organize the rental houses and events with such ease without formal structure.
Another interesting note- it doesn't actually take place at Duck Beach. It is possible that when the tradition started that it actually happened in the Town of Duck, North Carolina. But over the years, it has moved north along the island to the town of Corolla, and the Whalehead and Pine Island neighborhoods. However, the name “Duck Beach Weekend” has stuck, in spite of the fact that the gathering hasn't been in Duck in at least the last ten years.
Erin Ann McBride is a writer, dreamer, and “Duck Beach” pro. Equal parts Mary Poppins, Carrie Bradshaw, and Mother Teresa, she goes where the wind blows, writes about relationships and dating, and is devoted to serving others. You can get more of her at the Story of a Nice Mormon Girl. You can also find her blogging for the Motley Fool about the stock market, and writing about politics at the Swing State Voter She says that if you aren't friends with Meridian Magazine on Facebook, you are missing out.