Back to the beach in a pandemic

This humble HAT blogger has a confession to make, and I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m not much of a beach person. I say that because I’ve just returned from a trip to the beach.

Like most kids in Hawaii, I “grew up at the beach”. I remember clearly riding my first really good wave on a boogie board at Makapuu Beach, with the eastern tip of the Koolau Mountains soaring vertically from the beach into a bright blue sky. I was about eight years old. I remember hearing the roars of the sea lions at nearby Sea Life Park while horsing around with a handful of calabash cousins on the beach that day.

“Did you see my wave? Did you see it?!” I was hooked for life.

When I was a kid, my family spent many of our weekends at the beach at Bellows or Sherwoods in Waimanalo. I crashed around in the breakers on a bendy foam slab over long campout weekends. As I got older, I gravitated from AYSO soccer and little league baseball and basketball to surfing.

Winter in Hawaii
Winter in Hawaii means big waves.

After that, I spent pretty much all of my free time with my friends looking for waves, surfing, or at the beach waiting for waves. At night, we’d throw a fishing line out and wait by a crackling fire on the beach for the pole to jingle the dinner bell. We lived at the beach, going home only to sleep and assure our parents we were okay.

It stayed that way until I started a ska band in my parents’ garage, began touring the mainland, and eventually relocated to the Bay Area for a few years. Living at night and not having access to surf has a way of making trips to the beach non-essential.

When I moved back home to Oahu in 2000, I stayed in music and worked at night. Trips to the beach became infrequent and surf sessions became rare. I like to think that I’ve never lost my connection to the ocean, only my commitment to being in it.

Ala Moana Beach looking west. Photo: Jamie Winpenny

The beaches on Oahu have been reopened for limited use as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Hawaii’s beachgoers had railed against the closure. “It’s the safest place you can be!” people cried. They were right, but concerns about large gatherings prompted officials at the county and state level to close beaches anyway. Hiking trails, too.

My wife and I have been holed up at home during the various closures and shutdowns of the past six months, dutifully following guidelines to stay and keep others safe. With little to do and nowhere to go, it’s difficult to stare out at the deep blue ocean and know that just by going to the beach I might harm someone else. Before the pandemic, my wife and I made occasional trips to Ala Moana Beach for a quick dip in the ocean and the exquisitely cool, sublime freshwater shower that immediately follows.

I cracked today and broke the monotony of the stay-at-home order to get back to Ala Moana Beach. The ocean has never been off-limits, but simply being on the beach has been. At least until the recent easing of restrictions on Oahu. (The nature of the confusion and furor over the restrictions is for another blog.)

Earth and sea. Photo: Jamie Winpenny

This is why I’ve come to the realization that I am not a beach person. I maintain my love for and connection to the ocean. But seeing the solitary diehards, the young college students, the paddle-boarders, the fitness nuts, and the leathery retirees made me realize that I have taken my connection to the ocean for granted for far too long.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to find parking spot and an open patch on a normally crowded stretch of sand. But the price we pay for that relative serenity is steep. We’d rather see tourism return than give up our relationships with one another and our island paradise.

I believe it is safe to say that there are close to zero Hawaii visitors on the beach on any given day during the current mandatory quarantine for trans-Pacific arrivals in Hawaii. The people on the beach are residents that simply cannot do without regular communion with the sea.     

I plan to be among them again, and the more the merrier.

Sunset on the beach. Photo: Jamie Winpenny