OCEAN ISLE BEACH –– All 320 miles of North Carolina’s ocean shoreline are likely to be peppered with flapping shades of blue now that the only town that banned them has adopted a Shibumi-shaped ordinance.
Since the lightweight shades first hit the sand in 2016, Ocean Isle Beach’s 5 miles of shoreline were about the only place on the N.C. coast Shibumi Shades couldn’t be found.
Last week, Ocean Isle Beach Board of Commissioners passed a new ordinance, crafting a specific rule to legalize the two-toned blue shades, caving to enthusiasts who begged the town for years to reconsider its long-held anti-tent rules.
The beach town’s cabana, tent, canopies, and awnings ban dates back to September 2007. Shibumis, in their beach-shattering, patent-holding novelty, couldn’t be categorized, and fell victim to the town’s offensive on big shades.
Before this month’s change, single-pole umbrellas were the only shaded device permitted on the Ocean Isle Beach strand.
“I think these rules have been on the books for years, and years, and years, and years,” Dane Barnes, Shibumi Shade co-owner said. “We have created a product category of wind-powered beach shades. The acceptance in the marketplace by beachgoers has been amazing.”
The new ordinance allows for “wind-powered sun shades,” language lifted straight from Shibumi’s request to carve out space in the code for its product. Each shade must be kept at least 25 feet from the base of the dune line.
For those who’ve avoided the beach for the last five years (the only way anyone wouldn’t know what these things are), Shibumi Shades are made of one long tent-like pole, which users thread a thin canopy along — a far more convenient set up compared to clunky tailgate tents.
“Shibumis didn’t fit into the definition we had developed for allowing umbrellas,” Mayor Debbie Smith said. “And of course baby tents –– we allow baby tents.”
Getting the rule changed
The big shade ban, and in effect, the Shibumi ban –– the town specifically cited the brand on its rules and regulations website –– created a hassle for customers, the company, and retailers.
Upon checkout, Shibumi would reach out to customers who made it clear they intended to use the $250 shade in Ocean Isle Beach to inform them of the rule. Some customers asked for refunds after being told by the town to disassemble the shade. A local retailer made patrons check a box before purchasing to affirm their awareness of the ordinance.
Barnes, who started the company with his brother and their best friend after struggling with sub-par shade on family vacations in Emerald Isle, said he’s never dealt with local government before. Sporting Covid-19 grown-out locks and a blazer, the entrepreneur approached Ocean Isle Beach Board of Commissioners last month, with two fistfuls of Shibumis in tow for officials to inspect.
“We’ve seen them,” commissioners collectively and playfully groaned. “We’ve seen ‘em in person, we’ve seen ‘em set up, and we’ve certainly all looked at your online presence,” Mayor Smith told Barnes.
Barnes pitched the small-town commission on the benefits of his product, attempting to quell hangups that snagged cabanas and tailgate tents: injuries from flyaway Shibumis just aren’t possible, he said –– the wind “passes right through like a sheet on a clothesline.” At just under 4 pounds, the no-nonsense setup makes them accessible for parents of small children and the elderly.
Commissioners struggled to define what exactly a Shibumi Shade could be by code to distinguish it from tents (a smooth shade, a single pole with two legs?). Mayor Smith warned against naming Shibumis to prevent creating a monopoly.
One speaker presented a handmade petition she rounded up to support the shades. John Hobgood, owner of the nearby Sunset Beach Trading Company, likened the shades he sells out of his shop to a ‘90s craze. “It is probably catching up with Beanie Babies in terms of sales,” he told the board. “This actually might send my kids to college one day –– unlike the Beanie Babies.”
Speaking to the concern that other sun-blocking setups end up as mangled litter, Hobgood made an open offer: “If somebody has found a Shibumi on the beach and has abandoned it, I will gladly pay $50 cash for it.”
Relenting to daily requests for years to permit the shade, the board unanimously passed its wind-powered ordinance July 13.
“I’ve been totally against these things all along and, for the most part, still am,” Mayor Pro-tem Dean Walters said, also lamenting on the modest noise and vast shadow created by the blue shade. “Let’s do this on a trial basis.”
A week into the new rule, Smith has reconciled that Shibumis aren’t cut from the same cloth as the cheap tents that inspired the town’s original code. “I mean we were having people put what I would consider a canvas-covered carport out on the beach and wanting to leave it out all week while they were here,” she said, reflecting on why the board passed a ban in the first place.
In the mid-2000s, town staff would survey the beaches at dusk and dawn, scraping up the large litter left out overnight. “Of course people were upset because their chairs were gone,” she said of the beach debris roundups. “But we would have truckloads of them –– truckloads.”
The left-out materials also obstructed nesting turtle paths and created hazards for nighttime beachgoers. With the new rule in place, Smith is cautiously optimistic.
“I’m fairly confident that this is going to work for us. I surely think so and I hope so. The public does want them,” she said. “We’ll try it for the rest of this year. Hopefully, it’ll work out for everybody. Our beaches are only so wide. If it gets to be an issue, we’ll address it.”
Several beach towns east, the shades present no problem for Wrightsville Beach park ranger Shannon Slocum, who patrols the shoreline daily.
“They’re probably just a little safer then a regular umbrella because it’s free flowing,” he said. “I don’t have any visibility problem with them at all.”
Now that the North Carolina coast is clear for Shibumis, the company has one more hangup just south of the state line: North Myrtle and Myrtle Beach. Tents packed like sardines blocked visibility in the tourist spot, prompting the cities to ban big shades in the summer season.
Shibumi keeps customers apprised of local rules when possible, Barnes explained. “We want to do the right thing by customers and they’re obviously disappointed,” he said. “So, yes, we would love for Shibumi Shade to be allowed year-round in Myrtle Beach.”
When overlooking a coastline filled with flecks of Shibumi blues, Barnes is humbled by beachgoers relaxing with the N.C.-based company’s invention.
“We’re just so proud. It is such a surreal feeling,” he said. “We have a responsibility to beachgoers to deliver a high-quality product that really improves their beach experience that they love.”
Send tips and comments to Johanna F. Still at firstname.lastname@example.org