Sunday, May 03, 2020

Why beaches are so popular (and so overrated)

I have never really understood the big attraction of beaches. During this pandemic, the big challenge in many jurisdictions is to stop beaches from becoming overcrowded, to stop (mainly young) people from exercising their God-given right to flaunt themselves on a beach, preferably in large, noisy, often alcohol-fuelled, groups. And yet, I just don't get it.
Having said that, we have lived less than 100 metres from a beach for decades. Lake Ontario is just a stone's throw away from the front of our house, straight across the park, in the area of Toronto called The Beach or The Beaches, depending on which side you take in the ongoing and often acrimonious battle over what the neighbourhood should be called. We go for a walk on the boardwalk at least once, usually twice, a day. We never, however, actually sit on the beach (we may have done, once or twice, some 20 or 30 years ago).
For us, then, a beach is a place to walk near, not to spend time on. But I think that most of the visitors we are now having to weave our path between and around, as the weather gradually improves and social distancing rules fly out of mind and go by the board, are specifically there for the beach itself.  It IS undeniably nice to see the water, with all its many moods and atmospheres. And the vicinity of the water is usually cooler on a hot day, I will give you that. But I could just as happily experience all that from a cliff-top or a grassy bank.
I may be in a minority, but I'm clearly not the only one who thinks that beaches are grossly overrated. The main problem with beaches is, of course, sand, and it's kind of hard to get away from sand on a beach, and hard to get it away from you once it has taken hold in every fold of skin and clothing. Likewise with the sun: it's hard to get away from it on a beach, and as someone who has to have dry red patches frozen off my face at least once a year, I don't want to take in more sun than is absolutely necessary, thank you very much. Noisy kids, ancient dog poo, unwanted sea-doos, competing mp3 players, errant football or frisbee passes - the list of unpleasant beach characteristics and activities goes on and on.
So, why do people want to go to the beach? Well, clearly you're asking the wrong person. But, for what it's worth, my theory is that it all comes down to tradition, stereotyping if you like, race memory even. People just have this innate belief, a belief they have never really questioned, that beach = fun. Maybe it's just a rose-tinted memory of their their own childhoods, maybe they are brainwashed by advertising and brochures, who knows. But people just believe, for whatever reason, that the beach is the place to go, the place to be.

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