… is a workout for the senses
A morning at the surf beach is a satisfyingly complete sensory experience. It quickens the pulse and floods the nervous system with endorphins, the brain with dopamine, leaving the conscious mind in a happy daze, sinuses and skin refreshed and ears abuzz.
So why do we go there so infrequently? When we first moved here, nearly 20 years ago, we went often. Over the years … well, life has got in the way, with its clutter and preoccupations. This seems a good morning for decluttering!
Our morning begins with the short drive across the peninsula to Ocean Grove. As we approach the last of the low ridges upon which the seaside town sprawls — ancient sand dunes — we are rewarded with a first glimpse of the sea.
What awaits us? Long, regular lines of rollers, or broken surf? A greyish, surly sea under a leaden sky, or a mirror of cerulean with barely a ripple overlaid on the long swell?
This particular morning, a moderate surf rolls into the long, long, L-shaped bay. Steel-blue rainclouds lour to east and west, but above us the sky is clear.
It’s mid-January and school holidays, yet relatively quiet at 8 a.m. Less than half of the spaces in the car park are taken. From the car we already have a panoramic view of sea and horizon, punctuated by the Surf Lifesaving Club and the Dunes Café-Restaurant.
I swing open the car door. The breeze is mild from the west. Perhaps we will get rained on during our walk, but it doesn’t really matter — we’re dressed for the beach.
The surf is a pulsating sonic backdrop, overlaid by chatter from small straggles of locals and holidaymakers: waiting for their morning coffee from the kiosk, or heading neoprene-clad and purposeful for the beach, surfboard under arm.
The sensory load intensifies. Our sinuses already prickle with the ozoney, salt-tanged, kelp-spiced breeze.
Eager for the beach, we head down past the Dunes: rough, pebbled concrete path under bare feet; drifts of sugary sand. Descending the stairs, we tread carefully on damp timbers, slick and gritty from sandy feet.
A surf school is in progress, with dozens of young surfers in black neoprene already bobbing amidst the waves. A group of primary-school aged children in blue rash vests stands in two lines on the beach. Directions from tanned instructors with sun-bleached hair are received with an attentiveness that many a classroom teacher might envy.
We pad across the band of dry sand, churned and dimpled by many feet, to the damp, firm footing at the water’s edge. We head west, soon leaving the novice surfers far behind.
It is nearing high tide and not quite as firm underfoot as on the ebb, when the stretch of clean, almost level sand is twenty metres wider and compacted by wave action. Our feet sink in just enough to make the going a little heavy. After ten minutes, calf muscles are starting to feel a pleasurable burn.
The texture of the sand varies as we walk — soft as wet clay in places, coarser and more abrasive in others. We step around piles of leathery kelp, pink, green and white garlands of other seaweeds, avoid squishy transparent egg cases of marine creatures and keep half an eye out for bluebottle jellyfish, which are small but pack a powerful sting in their long, delicate tentacles. Fortunately they are not common in these cooler southern waters.
The surf surges, crashes, scours and washes back, filling our ears, evoking a slightly euphoric, meditative state. A silky soft, warm breeze does the rest. We walk mostly in silence: sustained conversation is impractical and unneeded.
Retracing our steps to the Dunes after half an hour, we decide that we are warm enough now for a dip in the surf. The shallows are pleasantly warm, and our feet already accustomed to the water, so the first few steps are not daunting.
As we go deeper, though, the chill of the ocean makes us shiver. Once we are waist deep, a series of small breakers helpfully does the rest, acclimatising our skin.
The shock of the cold becomes a frisson of pleasure as each foamy wave slaps into our torsos, faces, shoulders, backs. No two waves are alike, varying with infinite sublety in their interval, steepness and force.
Unbroken waves buoy us up; foaming waves caress and jostle; breaking waves deliver a playful wet punch. I like to stand my ground and be pummelled, careful to exhale through my nostrils just as the tumbling water tries to force its way in. Sometimes I emerge blurry-eyed from the salt water to be body-slammed or throat-punched by a sneaky following wave. Susan gets dumped by a bigger-than-usual breaker and receives a noseful of salt water.
It’s gone nine o’clock and the UV level will soon be high enough to require sunblock, so reluctantly we towel off and head back to the car, pausing to wash the sand from our feet at the outdoor shower.
Three hours later, at my desk, I’m still feeling the afterglow.
Thanks for reading!
Text and images © 2022 Steve Fendt. All rights reserved.