I believe that every human being should visit the ocean at least once in their lifetime. I grew up five miles from the Atlantic and experienced the shore at an early age. I have sought its solace ever since. I have delighted in its restorative powers my entire life. I have often engaged its inspiration.
As a boy, we summered at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, on the tip of Sandy Hook, a privilege for my dad, a veteran and reservist. The New York City skyline loomed large in the distance. Oil tankers strode proudly toward New York Harbor or bravely toward the open seas. It was there that the sport of bodysurfing became permanent in my identity.
Sometimes I used an inflatable canvas raft instead of just my body. One time, a huge wave (probably all of five feet, but seemingly a tsunami at that time in that space at my age) lifted my raft and me to its crest, before launching us like a torpedo in a spiral toward the shoreline, capsizing the raft seven times (I counted!) with me clinging on. I still visualize it today, a couple days from my 54th birthday. I sometimes think that when my mind no longer remembers that most memorable event, it will mark a sad turning point in my life and I will need assistance.
As a kid, nothing soothed my eczema better than the salt air and sunshine. I stayed in the sun for hours on end; the basal cell cancer on my adult face now proving it. Yet, there is still nothing better than playing in and out of the surf, up and down the Jersey coast, at Laguna and Huntington beaches in California, and on the Outer Banks.
Perhaps the ocean will never wet your knees. Walks on the beach and ankle-depth races with the tide may be your extent of indulgence. To each his own. As long as you get there once.
Luiz Sanchez did. The 10-year-old Bronx boy from New York’s Fresh Air Fund spent a summer at Sea Bright, New Jersey. So close is the Bronx to the ocean, it was remarkable that Luiz had never been. It was thrilling to see his reaction when he did.
It was 1964, and Luiz was my bodysurfing buddy. We would swim out as far as the lifeguards would allow, ride the tide till we caught a wave, and lay on our stomachs at the end of each pounding excursion, laughing as his shorts dangled about his knees, and wet sand poured from our ears, eyes and mouths. He got such a kick out of peeing in the water, as though that freed him from one restrictive taboo in his life.
For Luiz, I believe, the ocean represented hope. Of course, I lost track of him, and I don’t know if he became a doctor or a dealer. All I do know is that he made it to the ocean, and that, I believe, is all that really matters.