The ride through small towns seemed to take forever, thirty miles of anticipation. Depending on the wind direction, about five miles away I could smell the saltiness of the bay in the air and see circling seagulls. Air conditioning consisted of rolled-down windows, and the wet breeze blowing across cooler seawater couldn’t compare anyway.
Saturdays were popular for beach visits and I was the lookout for a parking spot, as close as possible because of all the important things we had to carry. There was the drink cooler, beach chairs, blankets, towels, my transistor radio, a beach ball, and beach bags with important personal stuff. This was where parents became important. UV protection was unknown. I just fried with Coppertone when I thought to use it. Usually I got the job of running to the umbrella guy with money for portable shade, and he would follow me back and plunge the stake into the sand at the spot my mom had chosen to spread our blanket.
Then, at last, to the water, there were waves to ride. Wet, squishy sand between my toes, icy water at first, breakers trying to beat me back out, all memories I wouldn’t trade for a zillion dollars. Not too far out, the ocean floor dropped off, a little trough of broken shells where the breakers washed out the sand. I had to get past this or the breaking waves battered me, but once beyond the drop-off, all the fun began. Waves twice my height or more depending on the calmness of the day rushed toward me. When the wave was exactly the right distance, I had to jump with the buoyancy of the water and ride over it. What a feeling, as though I was tiny and someone was picking me up and slowly letting me down. These days were long before Jaws. No one gave sharks a second thought.
Sometimes, if I forgot to look, a wave would sneak up on me, and I would have to dive into it. Then my knees got skinned up and I might swallow some salt water. I didn’t mind at all. I loved it so much, someone would have to come drag me out even if a thunderstorm came up. I can remember begging to stay in while lightning streaked across the sky. And when I finally did come in, my fingers looked like prunes.
Of course, when it stormed there were always other things to do, the penny arcade, bumper cars, Dolles saltwater taffy, souvenirs to look at, hot dogs, ice cream, colored ices. Rain cooled off the searing heat of the boardwalk and made barefoot walking possible, but sometime splinters were a problem. Who cared about a little rain when a person was soaked already.
The ride home was a whole lot quieter. In fact, I usually slept, only waking when the car stopped in our driveway. The memories of the day returned as I looked at my wrinkled fingers, squirmed in my sand-filled swimsuit, and accidentally touched my sunburned nose. But they were good memories and I could hardly wait until the next Saturday to do it all over again.