My beach has many faces. From the crisp moment of stillness as the sun first nudges over the horizon, to the very last seconds of cosy light, when the sun from sets behind, picking out the last of the whitecaps of the day, and turning them golden.
My favourite visage is the late afternoon.
Our shadows lengthen, stretching out from our feet and making us like Daddy Long Legs, all gangly and strange. The bite has gone out of the sun, as if she too is slowing down, getting ready to be tucked up into bed. Yet my back still glows with warmth as I watch the children play in the washing-machine swirling of the whitewater, bashing themselves in the rips and ebbs of the rushing tide.
The surfers all run to the beach in the afternoon, desperate to wash off their workday and grab themselves a piece of a wave, something all for themselves, riding along with grins like watermelon slices, punching the air and whooping like children as they cover their skin with salty renewal, rinsing clean the salt of toil. There is a fervent energy to the afternoon surf, as all of nature tries to cram just one more thing into the day, before feeding time
This time of day places me back in all of the summers of my childhood. The crackly feeling of the salty sand on my arms, and the delicious afterglow of sunburn on my back that will last all night, warm and scratchy on my sheets, refusing to be washed off. Back to a time when a smear of white zinc cream on the nose to prevent freckles was the height of sun safety. Those days were longer than our shadows, and we spent entire days on the beach, digging ourselves into coolwet holes and making castles for urchins to live in.
The skin on our noses resisted the meagre protection from the zinc and the hard peeling skin sloughed off in scabs, leaving brown dots below, but the rest of our bodes were tan with all of the rays they absorbed, as we grew strong and resistant to the baking heat.
As our muscles grew stronger and we learned to read the changeable churning of the waves, our parents allowed us the freedom to swim out beyond the break, away from the screeches of the little kids and the noises of civilisation. We paddled through the waves, to where the water was calm and we could sit on our boards, looking out to sea for the biggest waves (always the second of the set, we said) and casually scanning the horizon for dorsal fins. Every now and then some wag would hum the eerie “Da Dum” of the dreaded theme song, and we would laugh with bravado to hide the shifting shiver of slick grey fear.
When the shadows started to grow, our parents would hold up their towels like flags, the semaphore of: time to come in, we’ve had enough, we want a beer and a charred sausage to cheer the day off.
We would all catch the same waves in, no jostling for position this time, just riding the surge all the way into shore until our skegs caught the sand, mooring us back on the land. Back to our lives.
May your Summer afternoons be golden and your shadows be long.
…From The Ashers