Summer is the perfect time to hit the beach and catch some rays.
But, uh, what do all those words mean? What does it mean to hit the beach?
Does it mean that you’re punching the sand on the beach with your fists?
No, of course not—that would just be silly. Actually, hit the beach is just a casual way of saying “go to the beach.” To catch some rays means to get a tan. Sounds like a good time to us!
As you can see, knowing beach vocabulary is very useful, especially for fun times in the summer.
After all, the beach is a great place to relax and have a good time.
Visiting the beach is wonderful way to pass the time when the weather is hot, so it has a whole set of fun, colorful vocabulary words.
Some beach words give a different meaning to words you already know. Others will be brand new words for you, because they’re rarely used in other conversations that aren’t about the beach. No matter what else, though, most beach vocabulary is very fun and playful!
Have You Heard English Beach Slang in the Movies?
“Hang ten, dude!”
Have you heard those words before? To hang ten means to stand on a surfboard and hold onto the board with your (ten) toes.
You’ve probably never heard these words used in person (unless you have some surfer friends). However, you might have heard them in TV shows and movies about beaches, summer and surfing!
There are lots of movies and TV shows that show beach bums using beach slang. Beach bums is a slang phrase for people who hang out by the beach, go surfing and don’t do much else. TV shows like “Baywatch” and movies like “Psycho Beach Party” are full of these characters, who seem like they live on the beach and never leave. Wherever you see them, though, they all seem to talk the same way, like Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
There is a lot of specific surfing and beach slang that you might hear people from California and other coastal areas using.
For example, you might hear terms like gnarly and rad, which both mean “awesome.” These slang words are especially common in older movies and shows. You might also hear words like dude (a very informal way to say “guy”) and beach bunny (a girl who spends a lot of time at the beach).
Worried you won’t understand a new beach word—or any new English word—when you watch real English TV and movies? FluentU can help with that.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Just click or tap any word in the subtitles for an instant definition while you watch. Every video also comes with flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember the words you’ve learned.
You’ll hear several of the words from our list below in this funny video about the types of people you’ll see at the beach. To watch that video (and the full video library) with all the learning features, sign up for a free FluentU trial here.
Learn more English beach slang here, for fun! Just remember, this kind of slang can usually only be used at the beach, unless you’re making a joke.
Staying Safe: Beach Warnings and Cautions
Learning to speak surfer slang is fun, but there are some more important vocabulary words you should learn first.
When you go to any beach, you need to be able to understand the warning signs. Many beaches post warnings about things to watch out for. You should always read the signs on the beach so that you know about potential dangers in and around the water, and anything else you should know about the beach.
Know these essential beach safety words before you hit the beach in an English-speaking country:
- High tide: The tide is the rise and fall of the sea or ocean. When the tide is high, the water reaches farther up the beach, and can get much deeper. Know when the high tide comes in, so you can avoid getting caught in deep water (or getting your things swallowed up by the water).
- Rip current: A current is water that’s moving in one direction. A rip current is a potentially dangerous narrow current that pulls water away from the shore. Rip currents are sometimes also called “undertows” because they can feel like the water is dragging you down.
- Hazard: A hazard is something that is a dangerous. This isn’t just a beach term, it’s used in many other places, so you should know it for your general safety! On the beach, hazards might be tides, currents, mud, sharks or other dangers. Don’t walk or swim in an area with a hazard sign.
- Jetties: A jetty is a line of large and heavy rocks that extends into the water in a straight line. Jetties are meant to keep the water under control near the shore. They are also meant to help boats and other water vehicles to come home safely. Otherwise, jetties can be dangerous. People aren’t allowed to walk out on them because there’s a risk of getting hurt between the rocks, or being pulled under the water by a strong current.
Once you know these safety words, you can then enjoy the more fun vocabulary of the beach!
33 English Beach Vocabulary Words for Summer Fun
By the beach
Many beaches have a place where visitors can walk above the sand. These walkways, known as boardwalks, are usually made of boards or large wooden planks. Boardwalks are perfect for enjoying the beach without having to deal with any of the sand or water!
The area where the sand meets the water is called the shore.
The coast is the part of the land that’s close to the sea or ocean. Beaches are always located on the coast. If you live in a place that’s close to the ocean, you’re in a coastal region.
On the other hand, if there’s no large body of water anywhere near your city, you’re landlocked. This means you are surrounded by land, and there’s no ocean nearby. No beaches for you!
Sometimes the force of the water pushes sand up to form a narrow island. This sand island is called a sandbar. Sandbars can sometimes be called reefs, especially if they’re made of coral (colonies of very small animals) or rocks instead of sand.
5. Tide pool
When the tide goes from high to low, it can leave behind a tide pool, or a small pool of water. Tide pools are homes to all sorts of interesting creatures!
Waves are made when water moves towards the shore. Waves can be calm, or rise up high and leave behind a white foam.
7. Soft serve
Nothing beats soft serve ice cream! It is a soft, creamy, melt-on-your-hands ice cream that is served in cones. Soft serve ice cream is a perfect summer treat.
8. Salt water taffy
Salt water taffy isn’t made from ocean water, but it’s made with salt and water. This sticky candy was first created on the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but it can now be found in beaches all around the United States.
Pieces of wood that are washed onto the shore by the water are called driftwood. That’s because to drift means to be slowly carried by water (or air). The wood drifts to the shore in the ocean tides.
A dock (also called a wharf) is a structure that goes from the shore into the water. It’s used for tying ships down so they don’t drift away (in fact, tying a ship to a dock is called docking.) When a dock rises high above the water and extends much further away from the shore, it’s called a pier.
11. Conch shell
You might find seashells on the shore, but be on the lookout for conch shells, too.
These are seashells with a spiral pattern (a pattern that starts at a point and circles out and away from this point). They say that if you put a large conch shell to your ear, you can hear the ocean!
Beach clothes and accessories
12. Bathing suit
A bathing suit (also called a swimsuit) is, quite simply, the outfit you wear to swim.
It’s not the same as a business suit (a formal jacket you wear to professional events) or a birthday suit (the clothes you were born in… or in other words, completely naked!). Unless, of course, you’re at a nude beach, which is a beach that allows people to walk around and swim with no clothes on.
A bikini is a woman’s two-piece bathing suit, which leaves the stomach and back exposed. There are a number of variations on the bikini, like the tankini (a two-piece bathing suit with a tank top for the top part) and the monokini (a bikini connected into a single-piece bathing suit by a strip of fabric).
Don’t worry, we native speakers don’t remember all these terms, either. When in doubt, just call it a bikini!
Trunks are the male versions of swimsuits, and they usually just look like pairs of shorts. There is no top part.
Some women like to wear cover-ups at the beach. Cover-ups are light pieces of clothing that are either worn over or wrapped on top of a bikini.
Some women wear cover-ups so they won’t get too tan or burned from the sun. They’re used for modesty, because some people don’t want to expose lots of skin. They’re also used sometimes just because they look nice and fashionable, or for warmth when the beach gets chilly at night.
Sunglasses are dark glasses worn to protect your eyes from the sun. Sunglasses are a must-have item at the beach, but of course you can wear them any time you need to keep your eyes safe from bright lights (though probably not from explosions).
Sunscreen, also called sunblock is a cream or spray applied to the body to keep it from getting burned by the sun. The SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, tells you how effective the sunscreen is. The higher the number, the less sun will get to your skin.
Sandals that have one strap in the front that connects between the big toe and the second toe are called flip-flops. It’s easy to see why: they flip and flop around a lot!
19. Beach towel
A bath towel is what you use to dry yourself when you come out of the bath or shower. A beach towel is the same, but for the beach. Beach towels are usually larger than regular towels, so you can lay them down on the sand and then lay down on top of them.
20. Beach chair
The beach even has its own special chairs. Beach chairs are usually portable (easy to move around) and are made of metal poles with fabric stretched between them to form a back and a seat.
For extra comfort, bring along a beach lounger, which is large reclining chair that’s big enough to lie down on. Who said going to the beach means you need to touch sand?
One common beach pastime is building sand castles. These are structures made of packed wet sand. You’ll need a bucket and a shovel (or a spade, if you’re in the UK), which is a flat spoon-like tool used for moving dirt and sand around.
22. Beach ball
A beach ball is a large, inflatable ball, usually using slices of bright colors. Beach balls are light and can float in the water and the wind, which makes them both excellent and terrible for beaches.
A frisbee is a flat disc that’s thrown by spinning it. Catching frisbees is a great beach activity, but frisbees are also used in picnics and by some pretty awesome dogs.
Like tennis, badminton uses two rackets to pass a ball between two people. The smaller rackets and special feathered ball (called a birdie) make it great for a game on the beach.
Volleyball is a sport where two teams pass a special ball over a net (a volley is the passing of a ball before it touches the ground). In beach volleyball, a beachball can be substituted for a volleyball, and the sand makes the perfect surface to dive onto for that last minute save.
Kites use a frame and fabric or paper to float up in the air. You hold a string attached to the kite and let it fly high. Flying a kite needs a good wind, and plenty of space. The beach is the perfect place!
Sometimes, all you want to do is lie down and enjoy the sun. Sunbathing is when you bathe in the sun instead of the water; in other words, you let the sun’s rays wash over you. Sunbathing is usually done with the intention of getting a tan, and is sometimes also called suntanning.
On the water
28. Life preserver
Even if you know how to swim, it’s important to stay safe when you go out onto the water. A life preserver, or a life jacket, is a vest made from an inflated material that will help you float if you fall in the water.
Remember those beach bum movies? The characters in those movies probably used a surfboard.
A surfboard is a long, narrow board that surfers take out into the water and stand on. If you do it right, you can ride a wave—meaning you stay on top of a wave until it comes crashing down.
30. Boogie board
A boogie board is like a small version of a surfboard. Instead of standing on one, you lie down and use it to paddle out into the water.
A regular boat uses oars (long wooden paddles) or a sail (a large piece of fabric that catches the wind) to move. A motorboat uses a motor, or engine. Motorboats can go pretty fast!
If you want to see underwater but don’t want to go too far from the surface, try using a snorkle. A snorkle is made of swimming goggles and a long tube bent upwards. The goggles let you see underwater, and the tube lets you keep breathing without “coming up for air” (coming to the surface of the water to breathe).
Scuba diving is a fantastic way to see even deeper under the water. Scuba is an acronym (a shortening of words) that stands for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” Most native speakers don’t know that, though! Scuba diving uses a full suit and a tank of air to allow divers to swim down deeper than snorkeling, and for longer periods of time.
If you weren’t excited about going to the beach before, we know you are now.
And now you also know how to tell all your friends about your beach trip in English!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
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