The universal joys of a trip to the beach

21:20, Sep 13 2012

Is there a better, simpler, more universal pleasure than going to the beach for a few days?

In the past few months, I've been spoilt enough to make five trips to Stinson Beach; a 45-minute hop across the Golden Gate Bridge from where we live in San Francisco.

I've been thinking recently about how from Stinson, California, to Waihi, New Zealand, a beach holiday is essentially the same joys wrapped up in different surroundings, wherever you are on the globe.

So in light of this, the following 10 things are to me the best, more essential elements of staying at the beach; the pleasures of the sun, sand and surf that translate well across borders. 

Night-time arrivals

You get to the beach and it's pitch dark, a lot darker than you'll ever find it in the city. The horizon is an inky well of black, and you can't really orient yourself but you can hear the waves and smell the sea-salt. In the morning, you wake to find yourself a stone's throw a way from a whole beach, unveiled to you in its glory by the new day's sun. It's magical.

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Casual drinking/sleeping in

There's no schedule to a beach trip, or if there is, there shouldn't be. A few contented sighs to go along with well-made and delicious drinks are an imperative part of unwinding/indulging/celebrating your current good fortunes. The drinks also feed into the practice of the exorbitant sleep-in (but don't overdo it, because the charms of bright, bright sun and the outdoors are lost on the hungover). There're no alarm clocks at the beach. You can wake up anytime. Just allow yourself at least another hour or two of kip on top of your usual load.

Lying around aimlessly in the morning

All members of the household wake up on their own time, pad upstairs and sit about, chatting idly, reading even. At some point coffee is made and someone broaches the idea of making some breakfast, which everybody agrees is a superb idea. You have an itch as though you should maybe be more active. Isn't there somewhere to go? Sights to tick off a list? But then it dawns on you: you're just here to enjoy the setting. You stare out the window and smile.

Awkwardly spending time without a shirt on the beach

The beach is about the last remaining public domain where I will appear in public with my shirt off. I'm no Daniel Craig, but I do enjoy roaming shirtless among the white-skinned, slightly pudgy, plain ordinariness of all the everyday people. These are my kind.  

Pretending not to be afraid of sharks and jellyfish while in the sea

Jellyfish are small, gelatinous creatures that appear to have no real brainpower or discernible malice toward the beach dwellers that go stomping in their yard. Most jellyfish are not poisonous. But they still make me tremendously uncomfortable. Knowing that sharks live in the sea, somewhere, even thousands of kilometres away from where I'm taking a dip, is enough to put me on notice. (Stinson Beach gets special mention, though, as a shark hotspot, and an attack happened there in six feet of water.)

The beach provides me with an outlet from which I can laugh at my cowardice toward nature.

The inevitable mid-afternoon ice cream

All beach towns will have at least one convenience store and some sort of greasy spoon restaurant. (Stinson Beach is ritzier than the common beach town. It even has a slightly snooty bookshop! But it is in Marin County, home to San Francisco's elite.) 

This provides due cause for a daily pad down the beach to buy yourself an ice cream, and to sit around eating it as slowly as you can possibly muster. You should always try to make a better order than all of your companions, and try to slightly denigrate everybody else's taste in sweet treats.

Casual strolling

There doesn't even need to be a nice bush walk or set trek nearby. One day you might go left out of the driveway, the next day you might go right. You can walk as far as you can get one way down the beach, and then follow that up on your next walk by heading in the other direction.

Bountiful time to read

My everyday reading time is usually spread over trips on the bus, a few stolen minutes over a sandwich at lunch, and 20 minutes if I'm lucky before I fall asleep. I love reading. At the beach I'll read while sitting on the sand, over a beer, when I wake up, in bed, etc. etc.

Inevitable sunburn, followed by a glorious tan

American sun is a little less terrifying than NZ sun. But maybe through the sheer amount of body I have to cover on my large frame, or an ineffective technique in application, or just the ineffectiveness of suntan lotion itself... I will end up burnt. As uncomfortable as this may be, I will beam inside when someone compliments me on my tan.

Finding sand in my bed, shoes, clothes and socks for a week afterwards

Sand is resilient to everything: showers, the repeated swipe of a hand... everything. It will end up everywhere and for a while too, from beach house beds to your shoes you put on again a week after your trip.

As an entrenched city-dwelling mammal, I choose to view it as an earthy reminder of my brush with nature.

But what have I missed?

There must be something.

Writing this made me a little wistful. The Stinson house, which belonged to LP's aunt, has been sold. And winter is descending on San Francisco, which I imagine to be a slow oozing grey haze that is just an ounce thicker than the grey haze of summer.

What's your favourite joy of the beach vacation? For that matter, what's your dream beach, from anywhere you've been to on Earth? 

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