When I was a little kid, my grandparents lived for a time in Corpus Christi, Texas. We visited them several times, driving down through Oklahoma and Texas to the coast and they took us to Padre Island. To a kid landlocked in the Midwest, the ocean was magical.
I didn’t mind the man-o’-wars we were told to avoid even after they were dead, their milky bubble bodies filmed with translucent rainbows like a white oil puddle, tentacles spread limply on the sand. The bits of seaweed floating on the tide were exotic to me. They stuck to my legs and one peculiar type with tiny bladders all over it had a tendency to prickle. We tried to swim away from them but they would follow us, waves inexorably washing them toward our frantically flailing limbs.
My dad took us out to “jump” the waves. We stood in waist-deep water and as the swells rolled toward us, we jumped up, allowing the crest to pass beneath us. In the water you could jump a bit higher than on land, and it was really fun.
One time we went out chest deep, a bit farther than before. As we were going back, Dad got ahead of me, and the undertow began to suck at my legs. I splashed and fought, so terrified I was unable to scream, and finally got hold of the back of his swim trunks. He turned, irritated that I had grabbed his suit, and I regained my footing. I don’t think he even realized what was going on. I forgot about it the next time we played on the beach but didn’t go out that far again.
My grandparents lived in a little house with a tiny yard and I remember big flowers in the backyard. I remember a pan full of shells Granddaddy had put in the sun to dry. The tiny animals in the shells were decaying and dessicating and the smell was awful. We took handfuls of clamshells home in our bags and poked holes in them, strung them on chains and ribbons and made necklaces. I felt slightly superior to the kids in my class who had never been to the sea.
The Texas coast is on the Gulf of Mexico, and the water is fairly warm. I’ve been to the beach on the east coast, but stayed out of the water. I didn’t spend much time there. For about four years in the early ‘90s, the west coast became my home.
The Pacific Ocean is cold. If you’re going to spend any time in it, you need to wear a wetsuit. I played in and around Monterey Bay, California. The bay is full of sea life in forms from tiny jellies to huge elephant seals, sharks and grey whales. Surfing is big there but I never tried it. Lessons and equipment cost money, and I didn’t have any. Someday, though, I would like to learn.
I loved living there, even when the fog rolled in off the bay and the evening grew thick and cool, and jackets were required. Sometimes the bay smelled fresh and clean, and other times the air was redolent with fish from the harbor and the boats offloading their catch of the day. I liked going to the wharf and buying fish that in the morning had been swimming.
Santa Cruz is a tourist town, and the Beach Boardwalk was a fun place to hang out. We spent time there eating fried prawns and churros, riding the Giant Dipper—a wooden roller coaster—and the merry-go-round, playing games in the arcade. I miss Santa Cruz very much. You can see the Boardwalk in several movies, notably The Lost Boys, where it gets a lot of exposure and some great aerial shots.
Over it all you could hear the deep boom of the waves, the swishing susurration as foamy water ran up the sand and slipped back again. I made a sand castle with a friend. We left it vulnerable to the waves, a miniature flag made from a toothpick crowning its peak.
The best pleasures in life are simple ones. To hear and smell the ocean again is a deeply-felt goal of mine, and one I hope I don’t have to wait too long to fulfill.
Please feel free to share your ocean stories in the comments.