For 20 years and running, the Windjammer — a favorite IOP beachside hangout — has been showcasing some of Charleston’s finest bikini-clad ladies in their annual, summer-long “Budweiser Bikini Contest.” Starting this month, dozens of hot, half-naked young women will parade around the deck and the beach in skimpy bathing suits for all to admire and judge.

The series began in 1985 at the pre-Hugo Windjammer, picking up where the club’s notorious “wet T-Shirt contests” left off.

“The girls have to be at least 18 or older to sign up,” says club owner Bobby Ross. “That’s the main requirement. They sign a form giving permission for us to use a photograph in an ad. If anyone takes her bikini off or shows nudity, she’s disqualified. Most of the time, things go smoothly, though. We did a wet T-shirt contest prior to this [in the late ’70s and early ’80s] but we got in a little trouble [laughs]. So this event is fun, but a little less crazy.”

The first round of the bikini contest begins on Sun. May 21. The events continue through mid-August on the venue’s beachfront deck. They regularly draw several hundred loyal locals and curious tourists every Sunday (and on the occasional Tuesday).

The contestant’s presentation and “talents” are measured by the volume of the crowd’s response; the girl who earns the biggest, loudest cheer wins, so audience participation is crucial. The hooting and hollering is rated with a legitimate sound meter that uses decibels to gauge audience approval.

“I stay out of it directly because I don’t want the girls hollering at me if they don’t win,” laughs Ross. “96 Wave sends a promotional team over to handle most of the organization, so they arrange the contestants and handle the crowd response.”

This year, 96 Wave DJs and a panel of judges will help calculate the crowd’s reaction. Weekly winners receive $300 cash and earn a space in the final competition. After 14 rounds of intense bathing suit wearing, the contest culminates with a grand finale on Tues. Aug. 8. Along with the priceless title of being the hottest babe in a suit, the big winner is awarded $1,500 cash.

Any female who is at least 18 years of age can participate in the contest. Contestants must register by 4 p.m. on Sunday. The event is held outside from 5:30-6 p.m. with live music on the deck preceding and following the performance. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are honored with two extra bonus rounds.

“On Sundays, the place kind of turns over,” says Ross. “We get all sorts of people — college kids and bikers, tourists on the island, folks down to the beach from Hanahan and Goose Creek … it’s a unique event held outside that stands out from the typical, indoor club event.”

Go online to for more. (Sarah Grasmick)

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