The lives of beach bums, surfer girls and hodads everywhere have become less comfortable in recent years, observes Eric Herman. In fact, the summer of 2023 might stand as the most unpleasant beach season ever, and one that sadly concluded with the passing of summer’s high priest, Jimmy Buffett.
By Eric Herman
It’s high tide, the beach chairs are folding and mamma’s picking up the sand toys. As the sun sets beyond the horizon, summer has once again come to an end.
I’ve always loved summer. As a kid, the combination of freedom from the prison known as school, and the long sunny days, made summer a season of dreams. How I yearned for those hot days throughout the rest of the year. Each June, the exultation of the last day of school, when the entire three months were still ahead, was quite possibly the happiest I’d ever been, at least up to then.
Growing up mostly in the southern California suburbs, I could be found in and around swimming pools and especially the beach as frequently as possible. We lived about 20 miles inland from the south-facing beaches of Orange County where miles of sand and great surf always beckoned.
WAYS TO THE WAVES
The beach was just far enough away to make going there something special, but close enough where it was almost always readily available. I rode my bike, took the bus, bummed rides with older friends, and collected gas money when I could drive.
To this day, many of my fondest memories are associated with places like Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, and my true stomping ground, Huntington Beach, aka, “Surf City.” As a teen, I had football practice in the mornings and then afternoons were free to hit the sand, and hit it we did.
My ’66 Ford Ranchero was the perfect chariot for near-daily sojourns. In what would be illegal, and horrifically ill-advised these days, my truck bed was often filled with people and supplies, legal and otherwise. We picked up fellow beach goers along the way and blasted the classic rock of the era as we careened our way to the sand’s edge.
There we would swim, surf, party, linger, fall in love, occasionally get in trouble, grapple with uncertainty of youth and, haphazardly, come of age. Summer was a time of change. Urethane skateboard wheels gave rise to the sidewalk surfer and then the unsanctioned reappropriation of empty backyard swimming pools as the beach experience and attitude permeated inland cities. Boogie Boards made surfing easier and boom boxes made the music louder.
In my mind’s eye, the girls grew prettier by the day as the idealism of my youth crystalized in the company of the mighty Pacific. It’s vastness, mystery and even danger were the perfect setting for those halcyon days of youth.
Of course, it’s human nature to glorify the past and lament how things have changed. Unfortunately, when it comes to summer and the beach, there’s genuine cause for concern that goes far beyond nostalgic pining for yesteryear.
GREEN IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD
Even a cursory survey of beach-related problems indicates how troubled the earth’s ocean waters have become; much of which became painfully apparent in the summer of 2023, the hottest on record.
Rising ocean water temperatures, due to El Nino combined with CO2-driven climate change, have engendered the growth of invasive and toxic algae across the globe. Examples include the gargantuan sargassum seaweed blob that invaded Florida and much of the Gulf of Mexico in spring and early summer. Toxic algae blooms continue to impact numerous waters — both saltwater and freshwater — and their proximate communities throughout the world. Red tides, blue-green algae, and cyanobacteria are examples of harmful algal blooms that can have severe impacts on human health, aquatic ecosystems, and the economy – a problem that reaches far beyond ocean beaches.
Trash, mostly in the form of non-biodegradable, single-use plastics, litters beaches and has accumulated in places like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” — a mass of floating plastic garbage twice the size of Texas. Sewage spills have similarly soiled the waters in numerous locations, causing authorities to close huge stretches of beach for extended periods.
Record shattering ocean temperatures hit numerous areas, including coastal Florida, which saw some temps break into triple digits, causing prodigious coral bleaching and die off.
And marine creatures have gotten in on the unwelcoming act. Changes in migratory and feeding patterns caused by elevating water temperatures and other factors have led to increased shark attacks and downright aberrant behavior in some cases, such as recent sea lion attacks on surfers on the Pacific Coast, and seemingly coordinated Orca attacks on boats in the Mediterranean.
Throw in the occasional chemical and oil spill, increasing frequency and strength of tropical storms and hurricanes, rising crime rates in beach cities, the skyrocketing cost of driving to the beach and parking, and it all adds up to big beachy bummer.
These days, it seems the idyllic summer described in the music of the Beach Boys, and recently departed Jimmy Buffett, is ever farther away.
WHERE TO NOW ST. JIMMY
Of course, you don’t have to live anywhere near the beach to know that this past summer was a severe scorcher. High barometric pressure, heat domes and record temperatures enveloped much of the northern hemisphere.
Regardless of where you check in on the subject of human-caused climate change, there can be little argument that temperatures around the planet have increased in recent years. The misery of soaring mercury and sweltering humidity have become part of our shared experience, and naturally we feel the heat most in summer.
Ironically, all of the above have driven the demand for recreational at-home environments, particularly those that include swimming pools. It’s easy to understand why. As the outside world becomes less comfortable and secure, people with means are investing in their at-home lifestyle. While that trend was dramatically heightened during the pandemic, the current environmental and social climate only serve to perpetuate the demand for private amenities.
What all of this means in the long run is impossible to know; but, we certainly can surmise that the desire for the magic of summertime at the water’s edge still burns in the hearts of many. Perhaps the difference nowadays is that we’re seeking it in different places.
I write these words having just learned of the death of “trop-rock” icon Jimmy Buffett. Perhaps it’s fitting that he left us at a time when the Earth’s oceans are seemingly rebelling against our collective indiscretion; or maybe I’m just reading too much into it and romanticizing the loss of one of the world’s foremost ambassadors of happiness and sunshine. I love how he united people of all ages, beliefs and pigmentation in an ongoing party on the water.
I certainly am not the first person to get lost in the myth of summer, and the longing for that place where the ocean and warm breezes endlessly roll on. This year, summer officially ends September 22. It breaks my heart to admit that I’m not sorry to see it go.
Photo by iceman photos | Shutterstock