Close to the Beach

Cherishing the Thrill

 

I was lucky to have grown up close to the beach.

Far enough away not to have to fear the tidal surge wrath of hurricane season but close enough not to have thought twice about calling in last second ride requests to mom or, when bodyboarding or surfing wasn’t a possibility, pedaling the distance on bicycle—more than once with a friend on the handle bars.

Looking back, the independence of having ‘our own wheels’ along that four mile long stretch of barrier island sand would prove my first taste of freedom.

It was a freedom signaled with the start of the oak tree lined Airlie Garden Rd and continued with the first sight of marsh grass at the sharp left hand curve along the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway. The anticipation would culminate with a well-earned, bird’s eye view from atop the island bridge overlooking the ICW and the small fleet of sport fishing vessels and private yachts tied up at the marina just opposite the Bridge Tender Restaurant.

Today, after years of working on such vessels, I have a better appreciation for everything those floating homes, toys and status symbols represent but, at the time, they hardly registered. Except, of course, to signal the hard yards were behind me and the carefree, downhill run was finally set to begin. We were at the beach and life was good.

For Kaia, though, things will be different. We live closer now.

Two neighbourhood blocks and a pedestrian walkway across a two lane highway are all that separate us from what many, like myself, consider the good, quiet end of Australia’s Gold Coast.

From the very beginning, long before Kaia even realized it, we began making the daily five minute pilgrimage to our beach as a family. First with Kaia strapped in her Baby Bjorn chest carrier with her face snugly against me. Then, almost before we knew it, she had her back to me, facing forward, simultaneously taking in the sights with us.

And then, even quicker it seems, she became too heavy for the chest carrier. At least, that’s what my back began to tell me. A ‘Little Hiker’ backpack carrier came to the rescue only to succumb to a combination of excessive use and a gift in the form of a pink ‘Trike’. A gift that, having served its purpose as far as Kaia is concerned, now sits gathering dust and taking up space in our garage along with a pram whose fate was sealed even sooner.

Because now, Kaia prefers to walk. And like parents of most two year olds, we dutifully comply.

So Kaia walks, intermittently holding our hands and chattering incessantly. She babbles to us, the neighbors, the neighbors’ children…and, keeping her wary distance, often their pets as well.

Eventually, though, we usually make it. Past the always enticing park that marks the half way point, across the Gold Coast Highway and along the cul de sac strip of Sand Street that leads out onto the sands of Tugun Beach.

It is a stretch of beachfront real estate inconspicuously wedged between the jagged, bar graph silhouettes of Surfer’s Paradise 18 miles to the north and Coolangatta, 3 miles to the south. A sleepy, easy to overlook stretch of beach by comparison, yes, but one made more special by the fact, just the same.

The shells, the sand, the low tide tidal pools, the seagulls, the waves, the salty smell of the ocean, the fishermen, the feeling of sea breezes on her face, the recognized smiles of the waterfront neighbours and their children…this is her front yard. This is her beach. This is her home.

For now it’s a bit of a journey for a two year old and, as such, the return walk often sees Kaia in my arms or on my shoulders. But, in time, this won’t be necessary. Soon, her own feet will carry her wherever she chooses.

And when they do I can only hope the memories of these early years envelop and move her. Move her to the point that this so easily accessible childhood destination—this place-- will never be taken for granted.

May she always cherish the thrill of being lucky enough to have grown up close to the beach.

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