Everything under the sun surfaces at the beach

Elise T. Chisolm

August 24, 1993|By Elise T. Chisolm

Bethany Beach, Del. -- Where the white foam joins the sand, colored umbrellas line the beach like a riotous flower border. Even the bikinis and the beach towels add bright touches to the blue, blue ocean.

Vacationers are happily stretched out for their only week, probably, of R and R. This our first day.

I drink in the picture like a thirsty traveler. I am at peace and with my children, and I'm glad to be alive.

But, alas, discord. A couple nearby with a 2-year-old are arguing and the child is screaming.

The father, very overweight, is dipping the diapered 2-year-old up and down in the small waves. "I want him to learn to swim," he yells at his overweight wife, who is yelling at him. The child is scared to death.

There's a boombox on the other side of me, blaring hard rock. But, hey, they paid for this week too, OK?

A sour note on my first day. Why does the ocean bring out the worst in some tourists? Because everyone is trying too hard?

So I move away from the gang and go in search of the folks who live here year-round, not as tourists.

A handsome man is standing beside his catamaran. He runs his hands over the boat while we talk of the sea. He shows me his many surfboards, all for different waves.

Jeff, 39, a lawyer who works in Ocean City, just down the way, says he's hooked on the sea. He had his first real board at 12.

"I believe there is a spirituality in the interaction with nature's energy and the waves," he says. "I work sometimes just 20 hours a week, sometimes more, but I have to surf."

The lawyer-surfer got tired of his commute on the Washington Beltway, so he came down to the sea.

Then I meet Neil, 22, who is placing life preservers on posts along the white beach. He manages properties for homeowner associations.

"Sure, I'm addicted to the ocean," he says. "Believe it or not, I made enough money to pay my four-year college tuition. And soon I start my teaching job in Hagerstown."

Then I walk to the Delaware State Park where the "homeless surfers" are said to hang out. They do.

They will not talk to me, but at dusk or dawn they are riding the waves. They pick up construction money in the winter, but surfing is their life. One looks to be about 12, another 45.

One early morning on my walk a woman comes out of the ocean. She sits alone in yoga position with her eyes shut. What a face of peace, even though she is dripping wet and swimming alone is dangerous. Her solace was real. I saw her that night managing a local restaurant.

So life down the ocean is not just under a bright umbrella.

I found lifeguards and salespeople putting in long hours, many with stories to tell. And most of their stories make them seem more interesting than those of us, "the accidental tourists," who look to the ocean for a week of contentment.

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