Slideshow: Runway Beach

on Friday, Feb. 25th

If you’re flying to the Caribbean and want to get to a beach as soon as you get off a plane, try Sint Maarten’s Maho Beach. It’s pretty much on the runway.

Thomas Prior, a New Yorker with Jersey roots, spent a week photographing there. “The jet blast is like a 150 degrees and (the blowing sand) feels like rocks.”

Prior said, “There were 60 planes that week, and I was there for every one of them.” Nearly six million people have watched a YouTube video of a 747 blowing beach goers dozens of feet into the ocean. Prior says he was hoping to capture that over and over again — sunbather after sunbather hurtling into the ocean in a Wizard Of Oz-like hail of sand clouds. He sounded disappointed when he added, “Only one or two of them had the power to blow people into the water.”

On one end of the beach there’s a bar with a deck gazing out onto the spectacle of Maho, with speakers broadcasting radio chatter from pilots preparing to take off and land. On the beach itself, there’s a sign announcing the flight schedule for the day, and before the airport installed a second security fence, beach goers used to hang on the chain link fence and flap like flags in the blast from jet engines revving for takeoff.

Prior says, “I like those places that seem like they couldn’t exist in America,” and he’s not alone. He says about half the beach goers he met on Maho were Americans from cruise ships docked nearby, hoping to experience something memorable.

Prior’s Maho Beach project is one chapter in an ongoing series documenting “reckless fun.” The series doesn’t have a name yet, and I don’t need one. I’m hooked, and plan to feature more of his work on Turnstyle soon.

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