Monday, July 7, 2014

West Coast

Can't help it. Obsessed with that Lana Del Rey song.

It's also thematically appropriate since I spent yesterday with Mackenzie and Alex and their friends at the beach. Venice Beach, to be specific. (One of their friends has a house nearby.) It's only the second time in my life that I've gone swimming in the Pacific Ocean--the first time being when I visited California with my family at age sixteen. Many of my relatives live in Florida, so the Atlantic is old hat. Despite the fact that I'm in Florida on a relatively frequent basis, however, I still don't swim in the ocean all that often. I did when I was little, but every time we go now there are high bacteria levels or a strong undertow or man o'war, and the beach is closed. I splashed around for a bit when I was in Jacksonville in May 2013, but we were with the baby cousins, so we couldn't go in deep.

Same situation with Lake Michigan. I was lucky enough to grow up with a large body of water nearby, but we didn't usually swim in it. For one thing, it's freezing, even in the summer. For another thing, the beaches are often closed due to high bacteria levels. Occasionally, when I was a kid, we'd go swimming in the lake up by the old shut-down Zion Nuclear Power Station. Charming, n'est-ce pas?

At any rate, there are a few things I forgot about swimming in the ocean.

1) Waves. They are strong. Like, knock-you-over strong. I tried my hand at boogie boarding, which I'd never done before, and I can't say I was particularly good at it. Most of the time I just got shoved off the board and went somersaulting under the water. It made me grateful for all those swimming lessons my mom made me take when I was young. And it's funny, but it shed new light on all those 60's songs I like to listen to; normally when I'm singing along with the phrase "catch a wave," that means literally nothing to me. It occurred to me yesterday that "catching a wave" is an actual thing--if you time it right (which I did only rarely), the boogie board will sit on top of the wave and carry you to shore. I'm sure I knew this somewhere in the back of my mind, but my brain had never processed it.

2) Salt. It is mean. It stung my eyes, and my nose, and my throat. Largely this was my fault for being a terrible boogie boarder. Don't think I'll be attempting to surf anytime soon. Or ever. It may have been harsh on my body, but the salt was still interesting in a way. It reminded me that this was bigger water, different water, water that contains all sorts of creatures that we only barely understand, if we've even discovered them. (Deep sea exploration is so cool.) Speaking of sea creatures, everyone should stop freaking out about the "shark attack" that occurred at Manhattan Beach the day before I went swimming. It was hardly a shark attack; rather, it was an attack of human stupidity. What idiot thinks, "ah, there's an angry shark stuck on a fishing line. I'm going to swim REAL CLOSE"? And who thinks it's a good idea to swim up to fishing boats with big pointy hooks in the first place? This brings me to the third thing I forgot about swimming in the ocean.

3) Danger. The lifeguards eventually made us all leave the water due to a strong rip current (which pulls people/things towards the open sea), and I'm sure as hell glad they did, because I certainly didn't notice it, but by the time they called us back in it was really hard to get back to the beach. Again, grateful for those swimming lessons. Those lifeguards were working hard that day, running up and down the beach, making sure people were okay. In fact, this weekend a lifeguard died at Newport Beach trying to save somebody. Apparently he was the first on-duty lifeguard to have drowned in L.A. in 100 years.

Ultimately the beach was a lot of fun, but I'm not sure it's for me. This is the conclusion I reach every time I go to any beach, but I always forget. It wasn't the swimming that got to me--that was easily the best part. And the rest of the time I was reading Ulysses, which I realize is not a typical breezy beach-read, but I was enjoying myself. The two things that may keep me away are the sand, which is still stuck in the crevices of every single item I brought with me, and the sun. I like a nice sunny day as much as the next person, but I tend to overlook the fact that I'm quite pale. Multiple sunscreen reapplications could not stop its blinding rays, which scalded the backs of my legs, my stomach, my lower back. It will be fine--Kenzie and Alex have an aloe plant. Sitting down and wearing a bra will just be excruciatingly painful for a week or so. That's all.

I think it was worth it, though. It was a beautiful thing to behold.


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