What is it about ocean beaches that make them so popular?
I suspect this is one of those questions that, were you to ask 10 different people, you’d get 10 different answers. Let’s consider a few.
“I just want to lay out in the sun, work on my tan, read a book, and relax.”
There is merit in this approach, if your day to day life is unending chaos. A little vegetative time never hurt anyone, although there are those who have refined that art to the point of being mistaken for a potato. While I have on occasion been called Spud when sighted near a couch, if I’ve gone to the trouble of getting to a beach, spending my time lying around isn’t high on my agenda. I get bored.
There is something to be said for the reading part. The daily routine doesn’t always allow enough time for reading that big pile of books in the want to read list, be they electronic or real.
As far as tanning goes, for white boys like me there’s that awkward stage up front where I’d have to buy the entire population of the beach sunglasses for their safety – I wouldn’t want to blind anyone with the glare upon removal of my shirt. This is a deterrent. Other creatures reflect more gracefully.
“I want to cavort in the waves, snorkel with the fishes, splash my buddies when they’re not looking, and finish the day more pruned up with wrinkles than grandma.”
This sounds more like fun. If I do find myself in laying on the beach mode, it’s best to break it up with an occasional cooling dip of something more substantial than salsa and beer. But this approach also has weaknesses.
Sometimes beaches are rocky, and only advanced couch surfers pack enough pillows to make them comfortable. Getting doused with cold salty spray can lose its charm quickly as well.
Not all beaches are warm, nor does the water invite dolphin-like cavorting unless you’re wearing a wetsuit. This is the typical situation in the Pacific Northwest. The ocean averages 50° F around here (10° C), which can shrivel you up even on warm days. So there’s not much laying out, and apart from the surfers (not the ones with the couches) there’s not much swimming unless you count seabirds.
“I love to take in the sunrise or sunset. How better to enjoy an unbridled view of the colors and patterns of nature’s light show than at the beach.”
Ok. That one’s a no-brainer. Although I have often seen folks unwilling to leave their spot by a campfire and take the walk to the beach to see what the setting sun has in store.
“I like checking out the tide pools, or digging for clams, or looking for shells, or climbing on rocks.”
The active, engaged approach. Why lie around when there are things to see and do? Check out those sea stars and anemones. Look for itty bitty fish or crabs. Try to dig out a clam faster than it can dig itself in. Who needs books for adventure?
But why do I like ocean beaches?
I can relate to the reasons above – I’ve enjoyed ’em all. But when I come to an ocean beach, I will invariably do one thing.
I go right up to the surf line, where water meets land and caresses it like a long-lost lover. Or smashes it like two warriors in an eternal battle. There’s something almost primal and timeless about the interface, and walking its length is hypnotic.
Perhaps it is truly primal. Diluted seawater has nearly identical amounts of salt and trace minerals as blood plasma does, reflecting our evolutionary heritage. Maybe the ocean is calling me back into its embrace. This sirens call has been successful in a way; a long time hobby is scuba diving, and I do have a sense of belonging when I’m underwater even though the environment is alien.
Or maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces.
Walking along the surf line provides a sense of peace. Maybe it’s the soothing white noise from the breakers crashing a hundred yards off shore. Maybe it’s the negative ions generated from the surf boosting my mood. Maybe it’s the rhythms of the ebb and flow.
The coastline in Oregon has a varied beauty. In places it’s sandy, in places rocky, and it’s green and forested throughout. Walking along the beach, you can enjoy that beauty and the moods that come and go with the surf, and reflect on your life.
* The photos in this post were taken at Seaside, Oregon, except for the sunset which was taken at Deception Pass, Washington.