Nothing spells summer like a bikini contest, and no one does it quite like the Windjammer, Isle of Palms' ocean-front restaurant, bar, and live music venue. 'Jammer Co-owner and manager Bobby Ross has seen every Bikini Bash since the contests first started, but he claims he's not entirely sure when that was. "I can't remember that far back," Ross says — psst, the fest is now 26 years old. He does remember that some of the earliest contest photos and records have been lost to history thanks to the destructive force of Hurricane Hugo, the 1989 storm that wreaked havoc on Charleston. The Windjammer's Budweiser Bikini Bash started on May 24 and runs every Sunday of the summer until the final round on August 9.
While the Bikini Bash is currently an in-house affair, the contest's final bathing-suit strut used to be held downtown at the RiverDogs' old home at College Park, where the bikini-clad women would walk the field during the seventh-inning stretch. Ross said that after Budweiser came on board, he decided to move the finals back to their place of origin. "I just thought, why are we lettin' them do the finals down there?" he says.
Over the years, the contest has been hosted by local radio station DJ, but this year, two 'Jammer bartenders will be emceeing the Bash, Carrie Nielsen and Nikki McElwee. "We're going take it back, old-school Windjammer style. It will be fun for everybody," says Nielsen.
And the crowds? Well, they're eclectic. "There are doctors, lawyers, motorcycle gangs," says Ross. And while the bikini-lovin' masses are usually a good mix of out-of-towners and locals, McElwee says they never forget who helps them get through the lean months. "We love to cater to locals. They pay the bills in the winter time," says McElwee.
Take Jim Green, for instance. Green's been a Windjammer-er for almost 20 years, and he has a couple words of advice for Bikini Bash noobs: Get there as early as possible to avoid the inevitable backups on both bridges to the island. Once noon hits, you'll probably be hitting the brakes. Once you get inside, expect to stand in line for a while. "The outside bar is probably three or four deep," says Green. And you know what that means? Double-up each time you order.
As usual, the girl with the most applause wins. And although Nielsen and McElwee say that there aren't any rules per se, the contestants have to "stay classy" — i.e. bootie shaking is good, topless is not. Mostly, though, things get a little goofy. We've been perusing our Bikini Bash archives, and we've got to say that most of the gals are in the girl-next-door category and they're more prone to turn beet red than bust out a tried and true stripper move. Sometimes though ... it ain't so family friendly.
More than anything, Nielsen and McElwee want confident gals to take the stage. "We're nothing fancy. There's no reason to be intimidated," says Nielsen. So ladies near and far, grab your best suit and head to Windjammer's stage for the best bash in town.