It's time to go to the beach. Yay! But which beach? When I was a high school student (at BCC, in a previous century) there were only four possible answers to this question: 1. Rehoboth Beach 2. Dewey Beach 3. Bethany Beach 4. Ocean City.
Now that I'm no longer a kid who has to get parental permission to use a car or be a passenger in some other kid's parent's overloaded car, there are thousands more beaches available to me, almost every one of which, I must concede, is superior to the four I've just named:
There's a beach on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, that has lovely swathes of reddish pink sand lying between outcroppings of smooth rocks around a cove of tide pools. You can splash around in the filling-and-emptying pools or move out beyond them into the glittering ocean.
On the island of St. Kitt's, the beach is made of that fine, sugary-powdery Caribbean sand that is picture-postcard white against the blue-green sea. You lie in a string hammock under the palm trees with your delicious frozen daiquiri, and the words "tropical paradise" don't seem like a PR cliche.
On the Big Island of Hawaii there's a beach along a lagoon; you slip into the water with your snorkel and fins and suddenly you're swimming alongside giant sea turtles.
There's a cafe atop a cliff on the Greek island of Hydra that has steep stairs winding down toward a rocky beach on the Mediterranean. When you're done with your lunch, you wander down for a dip in the sea. If it's too hot to float on your back in the full sun, just swim into the cool waters of the cave beneath the cliff -- or go back up the stairs to the cafe and have decadently rich frozen dessert.
On the other side of the world on a tiny dot in the ocean is Heron Island, part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. You can walk the circumference of the mile-long island in less than an hour, but not if you're stopping every so often to swim in the shallow waters that gently lap up to the beaches. There are manta rays that breeze by you, and harmless little sand-sharks, orange and black clownfish darting in and out of purple and blue corals -- everything brighter and bolder in real life than it was when you saw it on the screen in "Finding Nemo."
You don't get any of this in a trip to the Delmarva peninsula, so what's the appeal of the beaches there? Why do I still go back? Nostalgia is a good reason, but it's not enough to keep me coming year after year. (As comic author Peter deVries observed, "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.") Here are my top ten reasons for going to one of our local beaches, in classic David Letterman reverse order.
10. Good building-quality sand. It's not pretty white sand, but it is packable, durable, just right for making a magnificent castle, a sculpture, or a fort that will stand up to the tides, for at least a few exciting seconds before a bigger wave comes along to seal its doom.
9. Dolphins. Without fail at some point during our time at the beach we've cast our eyes toward the horizon and have seen the curve of the dolphins' backs, the dorsal fins appearing and then sinking gracefully into the sea, only to surface moments later, farther along the coast. Sometimes they're gone after a few minutes; other times they cruise back and forth for hours. We've never tired of watching them.
8. Beach cams. This is a fun feature that didn't exist in my high school days. In Rehoboth Beach, you go to the corner of the Boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue, near Dolle's Candy Shop, and look up at the light pole to see lens of the video camera peering down at you. Smile while you call or text your friends stuck in an office somewhere. Tell them to web surf on over to Rehoboth Beach Cam and take a look. Wave at them, and they'll see you.
7. Kite flying. I've never managed to keep a kite aloft anywhere but at the Delaware beaches. Somehow the wind there always seems just right to catch and lift my kite and keep it hovering. The kite shops at Rehoboth have some fantastic offerings -- dragons with flapping wings, giant butterflies, and silver space ships -- although a cheap diamond kite from the drug store may be all you need.
6. Boogie boarding. The waves of the mid-Atlantic coast may draw sneers from real surfers but for a ten-year-old with a boogie board, they're not too big, not too rough, but just right for gliding in toward shore.
5. State Park/National Seashore Beaches. If you don't like sitting amid a sea of beach umbrellas, dodging the occasional frisbee or volleyball that flies across your beach blanket, get away from all those houses, condos, and hotels by driving down Route 1 to either of the two Indian River State Beaches, on the north or south ends of bridge over the Indian River Inlet. Or go much further south, to Assateague National Seashore. The beaches are uncrowded, you can wander the dunes, and not have to worry about body-surfing into anyone by accident. If you go to Assateague, though, watch out for those thieving ponies. I was swimming there once (well, it was forty years ago) and I emerged from the water to see one of them running off with my towel in its mouth. Though I've been back several times, I've never seen that pony or that towel again!
4. Funland at Rehoboth. It's the most family-friendly arcade of all the ticky-tacky arcades I've ever known and loved. The bumper car ring is not too big, not too small, and the lines are not so long that they exceed stand-and-wait capacities of small children. You can play skeeball or air hockey or about a million video games. The best game of all, I think, is the horseracing game, where you roll a ball toward a triangle of holes, advancing your horse according to the point value of the hole you hit with your ball. If you can bring a nice-sized family group to the table at a slow time when there are no other players, then you're guaranteed that someone in your group will take home the prize. Let me tell you, there has never been a stuffed animal so loved as one that's been won for a child (or by a child!) at a boardwalk arcade game. Another great thing about Funland is that the tickets you win at the arcade games never expire. I've got tickets dating back to the early 70s that I keep meaning to bring along on my next trip, and one day I will actually remember...and I know they'll still be good.
3. Funnel cakes! I'm sure there is no other combination of sugar, flour, and fat as unhealthful for you as the funnel cakes you get at the beach but there's nothing that tastes better, either. To me, no local beach trip can be complete without a funnel cake, and if you share one among three or four of your party, it's not so hard to work off the calories doing any of the activities listed above.
2. The people. I've heard that the crowd at Dewey Beach can get a bit rowdy (not that I'd know, since I haven't been to that beach in an eon, and the last time I was there, I suppose I was a bit rowdy myself!) but the people at Rehoboth, at Bethany, at the state park beaches, have always been a pleasure to be around. If an over-adventurous child strays from your line of sight, you will instantly be able to raise a posse of determined adults who will bring the wanderer back to the fold. Volunteers may spontaneously help you if you're struggling to erect a beach canopy or an umbrella. If the wind blows away your Sunday New York Times magazine, not only will a kind stranger chase it down for you, but he might even give you tips on a few of the crossword puzzle clues upon return. Even waiting in endless traffic jams on the road home on a Sunday evening, I've found people good humored and friendly. I just don't know what happens to them the minute they cross back inside the Beltway, but they always seem so nice to me on the other side.
And now the number one reason that I keep going to Delmarva beaches: Because they're here! If you can get away mid-week, midday, you can get to Rehoboth in two and a half hours. Of course you need to add an hour or two to the trip each way if you're leaving on a Friday night and coming back on a Sunday. (My advice: Don't do it!) But remember all those other beaches I told you about in the beginning of this column? They'll all take you a full day or more to reach. To get to our local beaches, you don't need a passport, you don't need a guidebook, and if you go for a daytrip and bring a cooler full picnic food, you don't even need a lot of money. I'm on my way there now, possibly as you are reading this. Maybe I'll see you there?
Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv, July 9, 2010.