I just returned from a weekend at Oceanside, CA where I stayed at a good friend’s beach house and man, I miss the beach. I had almost forgotten what the smell of ocean air and the sound of pounding waves can do to replenish one’s soul. While the water was a bit too frigid to go swimming in February, that was fine with me. I just sat on the ocean wall and watched the surfers in wetsuits take turns getting waves and everything was alright with the world. It had been over a year since I had visited the ocean…far too long for an ex beach bum. In my earlier days a week would be a long time to stay away from the beach. The beach became an integral part of my life the day I got my drivers license. My parents had taken us on day trips as kids, but with a license I could go whenever and stay as long as I wanted to. In high school I lived an hour from the ocean but that distance was easily covered with music and friends while cruising in my Corvair van. We would go almost every weekend in the summer and spend the night in the van constantly trying to avoid the police for overnight parking. We would usually get woken up at least once per night and told to move on until we finally found a safe zone. At that age we would head to Newport Beach where body surfing was king. The waves at Newport had tremendous power and in certain conditions could reach 8-10 feet providing a great thrill and a good thrashing if caught inside where the waves broke. Lifeguards were in constant motion pulling out novice swimmers who got caught in the riptide. Another group that always seemed to need rescuing was packs of New Yorkers who would head to the beach in groups searching for California Girls. They would show up in Levi jeans, tank-tops and Yankee hats with the macho attitude of kids from the Bronx. You can’t underestimate the ocean’s power and as they entered the water their Levi’s would get wet and heavy and they didn’t wear fins to help them swim. Once they got to the point where they couldn’t touch bottom anymore they were in a world of trouble…HELP. The lifeguards would bring them in to the laughter of their friends on the beach and inevitably they would say they didn’t really need the lifeguards help, right. The proper attire at that time was swim trunks and fins to help you catch the big waves. Mistiming a big set could put you in a washing machine of turbulence, a scary thought considering you didn’t know which way was up or how long you could hold your breath. We became very good at riding the big waves and it was thrilling and scary at the same time. I never did go to the infamous ” Newport Wedge ” on a big day which I still regret as I don’t see myself doing it anytime now. The “Wedge” was a place of folklore where the bravest of the brave would go out and ride huge and powerful waves and legends were created. There was always the story of the guy that broke his spine after getting slammed to the ocean floor…maybe that is one of the reasons I never went out there.
After college I went to San Diego State and got introduced to surfing. The waves in San Diego were perfect for surfing and I quickly became hooked. I bought a new board and started going on a daily basis and became proficient enough to hang with the pack. I enjoyed winter surfing because the crowds were smaller and the waves were crisper and larger. It was also a great way to start a day. I moved to the beach my junior year and could get out of bed at 6am and go straight in the water. The first dive under the water would wake you up quickly…winter surfing is also very cold until your wetsuit kicks in. But your head and feet are still exposed and it only took a few seconds underwater to get brain freeze. It was worth it when you caught your first wave and kicked out. It was now 6:10am and I was feeling alive and at peace. The nice thing about surfing is that when you are waiting for a wave you have your back to the land and all you can see is the never ending ocean…good for tranquil thoughts. My brother opened a Surf Shop in San Diego as he was a great surfer and decide to make it it his livelihood as well. He went to work in a t-shirt and shorts and always was in great shape while I put on a corporate tie after graduation and was never in great shape again. Sitting at a desk for 35-years can do that. When our kids were small we went as a group to the beach every chance we could and it was wonderful. Watching a child put their feet in the sand, or walking in the ocean’s water for the first time is absolutely priceless. The look on their face as they feel the water come over their feet and then go out again is astonishing. Carol and I even bought a beach house in South Mission, San Diego for a time and would spend our weekends there. The kids grew, Puff sailed away, but the memories remain. I still appreciate looking at the ocean with my back to all manmade structures and enjoying the tranquility of the sun setting over the ocean…nothing like it.