Salt Life, like Surfing, like living at the beach, is a culture unto itself. It is a way of life, having its own vocabulary and rhythm and etiquette.
It is fascinating.
Here’s what I’ve learned since I moved my pillows onto my bed at Chateau LaVie, my condo overlooking the sea.
Victory At Sea — is a term that refers to very choppy water; churning; lots of white; chaos in liquid form. It is one of many ways to describe the ocean and is used by those who have surf apps on their phones to monitor surf conditions at any moment, which then gives some sense of what they will be in a few hours or a few days. This is useful for planned spontaneity.
My surf app is called Surfline.
The changing tides are linked to the sun and the moon and the earth and time — specific time. You can read all about the tides online; the explanations are quite scientific and have lots of illustrations. Those who really understand the tides can tell you exactly when the next high tide will be. The tides change much more often than I ever knew; daily in fact. Twice a day to be specific. To live by the ocean is to become keenly aware of the tides; like city dwellers know rush hour, beach-folk know tides. Some beach folks know way more than others.
Walking on the beach you expect to find sand, water, seashells…but you will also find the unexpected: Single items that were once part of a pair: a flip-flop; a bikini top. Newborn sea-turtles making a break from the desert to their home. And patches of beach where the shells are ground up like fine gravel. This is an area that was once underneath several feet of sand. Storms and other environmental influences have worn the beach away to reveal this–seashell gravel–a place I’ve been told you might find sea glass.
I now have 9 pieces of sea glass that were collected and given to me by 4 different people, but I have yet to find a single piece. I wonder if people buy it and give it to me as if they found it; I wonder if it is a trick those who’ve been living the salt life awhile play on newcomers.
I look for sea glass practically every single day.
Waves are tricksters. From the shore, on vacation, their soothing percussive tempo can calm even the most vigilantly anxious. From the place they meet the sand, they envelope ones’ feet as a whirlpool, washing, massaging, inviting one to let go…come on in…the water’s fine.
You are up to your waist before you even realize you were seduced by the water kissing your ankles.
Once past the first set of breaking waves, there is a place in the water that instills a sense of of security. Weightless there, you are awake, alive, an aquatic creature far from the maddening pings of relentless technology. You think about Ariel. You imagine you’re a mermaid. You remember a print you once had of a mermaid holding a red shoe with the caption: She never knew quite what to make of the saying, if the shoe fits…
Your mind drifts easily–you let down your guard.
And that’s like an unspoken cue to the waves: they pick up pace, and energy, and power. You no longer feel one with the water; the imagined security has completely bailed.
The wise ocean swimmer or surfer wanna-be spends a lot of time learning to time the waves. You have to decide before each one reaches you if you will go over it or through it or under it; there is less time to decide than you think. Experienced surfers tell you: commit or quit. It’s something you do over and over and over again. Once you are out beyond where you can touch the bottom, you have no choice but to play the game. Unlike many sports that have a bench, or a sideline, a place you can go to for rest, the ocean demands that you keep playing until you find your way back to shore.
It can take a good long while to reach the shore if you do not participate fully in the game of timing the waves and tackling each one before it tackles you.
The salt life doesn’t run by watches or clocks: there are general times…dawn…mid-morn…afternoon…dusk…night. If the moon is not out, the beach is darker than any place I’ve ever been in the city.
The salt is as pervasive as the air. It coats every surface inside and outside. It changes the feel of your hair and your skin. It turns shiny things dull. It corrodes all metal and many non-metal things; it makes you eternally thirsty.
Beach folks shower 2-3 times a day.
Sand, too, is everywhere. I have no idea how it gets where I find it. I have bit down into sand in my Cheerios and emptied it out of the pocket of my cut-offs.
If someone had told me I would one day take sand in my cereal in stride, I would not have believed them. Those who know me well know that I take breakfast seriously.
But the good things and the annoying things about the Salt Life are mixed together as completely as the ground shells in the sand. They cannot be separated.
And the good things make the annoying things so tolerable as to be barely noticed.
To live on the beach is to have the opportunity to step into a vacation every day that requires no packing and can be as brief as ten minutes and as restorative as a week.
It makes the presence of God seem more palpable. It makes those things that once seemed impossible seem within reach.
It makes one both relaxed beyond measure and compulsive without control:
I can’t stop taking photos of the ocean.
I can’t stop facing the waves and believing that eventually, I’ll be using them as a platform instead of having them use me as a chew toy.
I can’t stop looking for sea glass.