The water depth slopes gradually, and you can keep walking out until it is over your head. The first thirty feet or so can be quite rocky, due to the depositing of rocks from the White River that flows into the ocean there. Sometimes there are a lot of rocks, sometimes only a few - best to bring water shoes just in case. Regardless, once you get out a ways, the bottom is nothing but lovely sand. It is truly a great place to swim and float!
We brought water shoes (mostly for Dunns) and planned to use them at SSB if needed. We went in the ocean every day and never felt we needed them. We aren't doing Dunns this year, so we aren't even bringing them. Its certainly not super fine/smooth sand, but we were very comfortable walking/swimming barefoot.
Both the depth and temperature vary a lot due to the river outlet. I'm going to try and link a google map. In that image (if it works....) SSB is to the left of the forested peninsula and the main beach to the right. You can see in it where river meets the ocean and the change in sand levels around it.
Closer to the peninsula, the water is very warm. In the river channel its pretty cold. In between its a mix of warm/cold layers (warmest at the top). Its really something unique to experience. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
(Its also great to see in the satellite image how large and nice the SSB AN area really is - SSB is hard to beat!)
Depending on where you walk out and the tide, you can easily go a hundred feet before you get into waist deep water. There are quite a few rocks and after a few drinks and a good wave you can be knocked off balance and stub your toe. (Ask how I know) I would wear water shoes for the first time or two but I didn't bother this last time there. Your results may vary.
I think a lot of the differing opinions on the need for water shoes to go into the water can be attributed how windy it is that day, and therefore how rough the sea is.
The rocks only go out about the first 15 feet or so, so the further out you go, the more the waves impact you and toss you around. On a calm day, you donít have to worry about the waves as much, and can concentrate on balancing on the rocks.
When itís windy though, you are trying to balance yourself precariously on some slippery rocks, while at the same time trying to brace yourself against the waves crashing in on you; itís a dangerous combination.
With the water shoes, you have protection on your feet for when the waves knock you off balance.
We were at SSB this past November, and the first day we were there, we tried going in without our water shoes (left them in the room). We got about 10 feet out before deciding that we needed to turn back because the waves were pushing us around too much.
Note that water shoes ARE available from the gift shop, so if you donít have any or canít find some back home, you can get them on site.
I'm sure this changes with time, but the water right off SSB is ankle to knee high. You can go further out and its over your head too. I didn't wear water shoes nor did I see or feel anything to make me swim back to shore and buy a pair. However, since I didn't have any, I was constantly trying to make sure I wasn't stepping on coral, urchins, slime, etc.