With Baywatch on the big screen, Laura Ivill heads to the coast of Georgia to discover where the original series was filmed.
Set on golden, sun-drenched beaches and starring the likes of Pammy and the Hoff, Baywatch may have been pure cheese, but it was also one of the most-watched TV shows ever, with a weekly audience of 1.1 billion in 148 countries worldwide.
Now, with our appetite for Nineties nostalgia in full swing, the lifeguards are back – this time in an action-comedy reboot for the big screen, with original favourites Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff in cameo roles. So when the call came to explore the movie’s beach location, Tybee Island, I made sure I was first in line – who doesn’t love to bury their toes in powder-white sand on the lookout for hunks in trunks?
But Tybee Island’s not in Malibu, or even Hawaii – it’s in the state of Georgia, a scenic drive up the coast from Florida. It’s Gone with the Wind territory, America’s Deep South of cotton plantations, fresh-water swamps, salt marshes, shrimping and alligators. Gnarly, centuries-old oak trees are draped in eerie shawls of Spanish moss, only 20 miles from where Forrest Gump sat on a bench in a leafy square recounting his life story.
I’m exploring Georgia’s chain of holiday islands, which are easily accessible on a road trip and rich in both history and wildlife. However, this afternoon on Tybee’s three-mile beach, I’m mostly watching a handful of fit young men strapped into stunt kites. This is where a huge obstacle course was set up when Baywatch was filmed last summer, with dunes and surf the perfect backdrop for the action-comedy antics of stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron and Kelly Rohrbach.
Local girl Hannah comes to the beach most evenings and remembers the cast and crew hanging out in town, ordering burgers from seafront restaurant Fannie’s On the Beach and getting stuck into huge sharing plates of seafood at the Crab Shack. Johnson was rumoured to be renting Sandra Bullock’s four-bedroom plantation home in Tybee. Mates’ rates maybe?
The seaside town is a mixture of charming old detached homes, with verandas and rocking chairs where locals sit out on the hot, humid summer nights. Unfortunately, a hurricane last October took away the dunes that screened the main part of the beach from the car park and badly damaged the pier.
But the area has a lived-in, seaside feel, much treasured by the descendants of those that have had homes here since the Twenties, and have seen the dirt tracks replaced by tarmac only in recent years.
Wide open beaches surround the island, ideal for picnics, beach games, jogging, watersports, jet-skiing, dolphin-watching and lazing in the sun. This semi-tropical coast has idyllic temperatures in spring and autumn, and the sea breezes take out some of the humid summer heat that hangs around a toasty 27-32C.
Tybee is an easy 18-mile drive from Georgia’s second city, the historic trade port of Savannah. It’s a gem, sometimes described as a “mini-Charleston” (the historic port city across the river in South Carolina), with its own picturesque, leafy and walkable downtown area.
When the town was founded in 1733, the first settlement was based on a grid system and formed 24 “pocket parks”. Many years later, one of these even provided a backdrop for that famous scene in Forrest Gump. Although don’t go looking for his bench there – the iconic prop is now in the Savannah History Museum.
Who knows; if the new Baywatch movie matches the success of the original television show, perhaps some of those red floats and tight trunks might end up on display behind a glass cabinet too?
Laura Ivill was a guest of the tourist board. For more information, see visittybee.com and VisitTheUSA.co.uk
America As You Like It ( 020 8742 8299, americaasyoulikeit.com) offers a 10-night holiday to Florida and Georgia from £1,519 pp (two sharing). The price includes flights from Gatwick to Orlando, returning from Savannah to Heathrow, 10 days fully inclusive economy car hire ($150 one-way fee payable locally), plus two nights at each of the following: Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, Seaside Amelia Inn, Jekyll Island Club, Hotel Tybee and B Historic Savannah Hotel.