“Oh man, I had to play dodge the surfer this morning.” Yes, this was an actual statement I made recently. I was chatting with my boss about my drive into work that morning and there was a hurricane off the coast which was causing predicted “epic waves” for a record number of days. As a result, the surfers (and those who hadn't broken out their boards in years), were flocking to the beach in my town in droves. It was considered so normal when a converted school bus full of surfers parked in the grocery store parking lot for the weekend and was a campsite for the big group of surfing out of towners, no one blinked an eye.
It's moments like these where I realize exactly how unique where I live really is. There is an entire culture built around the ocean and the rivers surrounding our barrier island and it permeates everything from the clothes, the restaurants, the language, and what's considered normal (like watching surfers run barefoot across the road with their boards in hand every day). It really gets into your soul. You can't help it when your drive to work every day is parallel to the ocean on one side and a river on the other, driving up a tiny strip of land where sometimes I can see both the ocean and the river at the same time.
I don't say these things to brag. I honestly tell you this is my normal and I know that the day I forget to appreciate it is the day I need to get a solid slap upside the head (with ensuing stars circling around my face like a cartoon).
I moved here when I was 10 years old and it was a very interesting transition for me (I had lived most of my childhood in the Middle East and missed the 80’s in the U.S.). When I arrived, everyone was rocking their corduroy Billabong jackets, Reef flip flops, looooong beach hair (both girls and guys), bathing suits underneath their school clothes, and saying things like “dude”, “awesome”, and “totally”. Now, I am an auburn haired, see through pale, freckled, not a size 0 in shorts (so I couldn't shop at the surf stores), allergic to pretty much all seafood, and generally not a fan of the sun kind of gal so I naturally spent the next 8 years of my life trying to be a beach bunny like my friends. All I achieved was a healthy fear of sun burns, an inability to retain a tan, and I surfed once (on a longboard the size of a Cadillac) where I did successfully stand up but it didn't convince me to try again (did you know the best surfing is super obnoxiously early in the morning? Uh, no thanks).
Needless to say, when I left my tiny beachside town for college I was off and running to a place that actually had seasons. I came home sparingly for the next 6 years until circumstances outside of my control forced me to move back here.
At first when I moved back, all I did was plan on when I was leaving again. It felt like too small of a town and my reasons I felt like an outsider in high school were still there. Then I realized the problem wasn't the beachside town – it was me. Every time I went on a trip elsewhere, I realized how much I missed home. I missed the water everywhere, surfer influenced restaurants, the ocean noise in the late evenings, people deciding if it’s worth it to go somewhere if it means going over the causeway to “the mainland”, random surfer magazines at the entrances of local establishments, the laid back attitudes, and even the tourists (a little bit). When I came back into town and got to drive on the causeway connecting the mainland to my barrier island that crossed over the rivers while facing the ocean, I'd realize I was taking a deep meditative breath and relaxing knowing I had arrived……home.
I've embraced the community now and enjoy it on my own terms because when I looked around I realized that was exactly what everyone else was doing. Despite stereotypes, you don't have to be a beach bunny or surfer boy to enjoy living here. It just took me entering my 30s to finally realize the obvious. I typically go to the beach at sunrise or sunset (avoiding the sunburn times of the day), tried kayaking for the first time recently on a nighttime bioluminescent tour (it was fantastic and magical and I had the most amazingly patient friend who taught me how to paddle), enjoy watching the surfers, and accepted that my Flintstone feet are not going to fit into the dainty thin strapped Reef flip flops and instead rock the wide straps (they aren’t flattering but have lasted me 10 years and are SO comfortable).
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are negatives. It’s hot. Like really hot. There are mosquitoes everywhere, a tendency for alligators wherever there is deep enough standing water, no seasons (we Floridians celebrate when it gets below 80 and some even break out their winter coats from the 80s when it gets below 75), and sometimes I do wish I wasn’t in a small town where it’s almost guaranteed you will see someone you know from high school right after leaving the gym with no makeup, disgusting hair, and an insanely unflattering gym kit on.
Those negatives are minimal compared to the positives. I see dolphins and manatees multiple times a week on my drive to work. I can see the ocean now from the back deck of my house. If I want to visit the beach, it’s not a huge production and all I have to do is walk across a 4 lane road and stop by for a few. My friends from New England pointed out how lucky we are to have so many public beach accesses and I realized how right they were. I am finally embracing everything this tiny beach town has to offer because I was too narrow minded focusing on what I wasn’t when I was younger to see it for everything it has to offer.
Honestly, it’s pretty magical here. It only took me until I was 34 years old to get my act together and figure it all out. Better late than never, right?
P.S. If you like the beach, I share my walks and other beachside adventures on snapchat. My username is rach.abrahams