Contrary to published reports a great white shark did not beach itself in Atlantic City on August 6th. That was just me taking my shirt off to go swimming. Seriously, I don't tan so much as I burn. I'm a mutt who has German, British, Irish, Scottish and even a little bit of American Indian blood in his ancestry but it's the U.K. parts that come to the fore in my physical appearance. I'm pale, hairy and covered in freckles so you can understand why I tend to stay out of the sun. Getting sunburned is never a pleasant experience but on this occasion it was definitely worth it. Besides, the weather was quite nice and there was lots of cloud cover so it turned out to be rather minor which was a pleasant surprise.
Now I can say I get it. I understand the allure of the beach for those that live or grew up near one. Now I'm talking about a real beach here, not one like I've written about going to before with the family that was created at a lake near here. I'm talking about a proper beach at the ocean. My wife is one of those people, she is from Lima, Peru which has a lot of beaches close by. She's told me stories of walking thirty to forty minutes to get to the beach with her brother and cousins when she was young. I never really understood what would draw you to walk that far, to be in the heat, to get sunburned (okay they didn't get burned), to put up with crowds and bugs and everything else that goes with it. Until now that is.
While on vacation visiting my mother-in-law (amongst other relatives) we took a day trip to go to the beach in Atlantic City. I thought it would be nice for my wife since she hasn't been to a beach to swim since she came to the United States over eleven years ago. That's saying something since like I said, she grew up living very near the beach and used to go all the time, especially when she was young. My own experiences with, as I refer to it, a real beach, were confined to a vacation in North Carolina when I was about ten or eleven years old and one in Spain where I was on leave for a week while I was stationed in Germany in the U.S. Army. For the former I was an undersized, scrawny, easily sunburned (yeah I know I'm beating this point to death) and massively insecure kid and for the latter it was winter and the water was freezing cold so I didn't get to swim. In other words, my exposure to the beach was very limited at best.
We met up with a friend of my mother-in-laws who was in from Peru visiting her sons that live in Atlantic City and once together we set off for the beach. I thought I'd swim for about twenty to thirty minutes, get out and cover up while relaxing before getting back in the water for a bit with my shirt on and my bald head covered. That didn't happen. Instead, something wonderful occurred. As I said, the weather was great, lots of clouds, not a lot of the sun beating down on us. After I got in the water and waded out to chest level I really began to enjoy connecting with the water, determining whether to dive under individual waves or float over them. My son was learning to boogie board and he was having a blast. Later he started following my lead as I taught him everything I had just learned. My wife was also enjoying her time in the ocean water once again. We were getting used to the strong pull of the water as in came in and out, from different angles, over and over and over.
Basically I felt the connection to nature. As much joy as I saw on my son's face as the wave caught him on his board and propelled him forward I know it was showing just as much on my face as I went further out and stopped attempting to battle the waves and instead tried to move with them. Now I understood why people want to live so close to the beach, why they want to spend a lot of time there, why they enjoy learning to boogie board or surf. It's a natural thing to want to spend your time and do things there. Now I get it. The joy I felt was worth the fatigue that came from resisting the tide, it was worth getting bitten by flies, worth the fearful shame I had of people seeing my pale, overweight body without a t-shirt on and absolutely, positively worth the sunburn. Nor did I care that I smelled of the ocean when we went to go eat afterwards. None of that mattered because I felt my family and myself bond with the sea.
If you think I'm being melodramatic for the sake of the story well, you are wrong. If you don't believe me I don't care, you weren't there. I was. I simply advise you to get yourself to a beach and find out for yourself. Make up your own mind with real life experience. With any luck you'll have a similar experience to mine, something to remember and share with your family. Now I want more, I just have to find a way to make it happen more frequently, something not easy in a landlocked state like Oklahoma. It's doable though, now that I get it.
Written and Published by Don Leach.
May not be used without permission from the author.