#117 Surfers and Other Observations

Surfers and Other Observations.

My first encounter with real time surfers was in the late 1980’s, probably 1987. I’d gone out to California for the first time to visit my daughter who was researching her Senior Thesis with the (oxymoron-ish) subject on the homeless of Santa Barbara. She was staying for the summer in a nearby beach town, Isla Vista, and it was there that I learned the best time of day to walk down to the beach was before sunset as that is when the surfers were flocking to the water. The thing that struck me most was that they never failed to greet me with variations of “Hello” as well as making eye contact with an accompanying smile. I was middle aged, dumpy, woman and the fact that these young Californians would acknowledge my presence amazed me as I’d never had such exchanges on the East Coast. Perhaps those greetings had to do with the unifying commonality which beach and ocean lovers share. I could never come to a satisfactory conclusion but I never forgot the sheer joy of those brief encounters.

Now that I am truly old I still love to go down on the beach near sunset. Even in Maine that is the time the surfers carry their boards to the water. Logically this would be as soon as the work day ended. Now there are a fair numbers of women among the men and the age range spans from chrome domes and paunchy hold-ons to those particularly water-hardened slender bodies, long haired, prime-of-young-life beings. They, East Coast residents all, still do not greet (nor smile at) strangers.

I’ve found another kind of athlete on the beach at sunset. Nondescript, mostly black, dogs race on the hard sand like sprinters chasing after balls sent airborne with those ball launcher devices made of plastic (Chuckits). There is sheer joy on the faces of these dogs moving flat out until they capture their usually round and orange prey. Of course purebreds and other mixtures show up at the end of day, all eager in one way or another, particularly the ones who get to run, walk, and wander, off lead. I imagine the sense of freedom they feel, released–finally–to go where their noses take them without having to drag their keeper along at the end of the ever too short lead. I find parallels between these exploring, running free, canines and the happy beach children showing the same sense of unbounded joy in directing their bodies where they, not their parents, want to go.

What I haven’t yet told you is that tonight’s beach foray is in mid-October, an unexpected beach time, but understood if you’ve experienced how the Atlantic is as slow to cool in the Fall as it is slow to warm in the Spring. East Coast Spring beach walks are for hardy folk able to tolerate fierce cold wind coming off frigid water–it is late July before the air or the water becomes reasonable but the Fall is often glorious, especially after the tourists have bailed. There is a sense of giddy reclamation, especially on surprisingly warm days, as if some joy slipped through the bounds of seasonal rules. “It’s warm and it’s all ours.”

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