Nothing says "vacation" like getting blown across a beach by the engine blast of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet — or having one scream past, 30 feet above your head, as you lay on a towel sipping a mai tai.
Welcome to Maho Beach, a 200-yard-wide patch on Sint Maarten's Caribbean coast — and right next to Princess Juliana International Airport's super-short runway. Incoming planes fly low over the heads of beachgoers in order to touch down with enough room to brake. This makes for an amazing scene. I mean, what's the closest you've ever been to a flying jet without being in it?
Brooklyn-based photographer Thomas Prior recognized this and took a trip for his series of projects exploring dangerous and beautiful recreation spots. What he really wanted to see was the planes taking off.
Departing planes start from the end of the runway closest to the beach, and their engines blast air toward the water, occasionally with enough force to blow people along with it. Prior went during the slow season, so he had to make the best of 10 to 12 planes a day, of which only three would give a good blast. "On top of that," he writes in an e-mail, "it's really, really hard to take photos when rocks are hitting your eyeballs."
There are signs listing arrival and departure times, and the planes that stop traffic and bring people out of the bars are the 747 jumbo jets. "There were a total of seven the week I was there," he writes, "and every time the place went bananas."
He says only half of the beachgoers he talked to came for the planes, and the other half were totally clueless. Can you imagine laying out your things for a nice day at the beach, dozing off while you do a crossword puzzle and then suddenly getting blown into the ocean? What a rude awakening.