A Summer Sunrise

Written By: Josie Alexander

Fear and icy water swirled around me, crippling me, seeping into my bones and making my body shudder. A wave had crashed down onto me and gallons of water hammered my body and churned bubbles and sand all around me. Sand and rocks scraped my skin and the sheer power of the waves overtook my small body. I thrashed wildly, desperately trying to figure out which way was up, which direction I should swim in to escape the strong grips of the ocean. My mind flashed to surfing movies and beach movies, where people were crashed by waves and injured, or where they were dragged out to sea against their wills. Movies where people went into the ocean and never came out. And suddenly I was out of the ocean’s grasp, and as I gasped madly for air, the screaming in my lungs finally quieted down.

I turned towards the shore, searching for my dad and brother. They were almost back to shore already, so busily talking that they were oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t with them. In that moment, their absence made me feel even smaller, and even more alone in the seemingly never-ending ocean, whose waves were coming at full force.

I treaded water like crazy, yelling for my dad when suddenly another wave hit me, and I was underwater again, being yanked around by the ocean’s will. This time I opened my eyes, and I could see bubbles swirling and dancing around me going every which way. Once again I hit the sand, and the wave carried me closer to shore, dumping me in a place where the ocean floor was very shallow, and finally I could stand up. I wiped the hair out of my face, and reached down to wash the sand off my hands and face. I shouted to my dad again, and this time he heard me, but I was still far away and he couldn’t hear me well enough to know I needed help, so he just waved at me.

I steeled myself, dove back into the water, and headed for the shore. I swam carefully, ducking under the bigger waves and only swimming when small waves were coming. When I got back to shore, I began sobbing. My dad comforted me, but I was still extremely shaken up, taking shuddering breaths and wanting nothing more than to run away from the ocean and never go back. Of course I would be back at Sagg Main Beach many more times in the coming years, though I didn’t know it back then.

That experience kept me away from the ocean for the rest of the summer, and I left Bridgehampton at the end of August to start school again. The next summer, I was once again faced with the prospect of going in the ocean. The day I decided to go back into the ocean the waves were small, and I slowly approached the edge of the water, my dad next to me at every step. I managed to go back in that day, and my fear vanished from then on. My love for the ocean, for water, and for swimming returned and increased exponentially.

The ocean no longer scares me, and the beach is now a place I can go to seek peaceful reflection. On the beach, you can walk along and find beautiful little shells, bird prints, seaweed, perfectly round pebbles, and track other people by their footprints. You can see two pairs of footprints breaking away from each other, or see two pairs of footprints close together, and imagine a couple walking hand-in-hand. Walking along the beach after the sunrise is the best time to observe the life of the beach, because the day is not too hot and not too cold, and there’s no one around except perhaps some deer. One of my favorite summer activities is to watch the sunrise from Sagg Main Beach.

Of course all good things come at a price, and in this case it’s the early wakeup time, which is usually before five o’clock. My mom and I are still figuring out a schedule that works for us, so sometimes we get to the beach before the sun and other times we don’t. Our usual plan is this: the night before, we look up the time for sunrise and then figure out the least amount of time it will take to get ready and drive to the beach. The next morning I wake up to ringing bells, my alarm set at a volume that will wake me but not my brother. I force open my eyelids, and drag myself out of bed at the ungodly early hour. We drive to the beach, waking up with the assistance of blaring pop music on the car radio until we arrive and shuffle onto the beach, sweatshirts pulled tight around our bodies while we wait for the sun to come up and warm us.

We walk down to the lifeguard chair, and climb up its side, sand falling into our eyes as we grab hold of the sandy planks on the sides of the chair. At the top I can see miles out to sea, and see all the houses lining the beach. I think about all the people and animals around us who are still resting and whose days have yet to start. The wind whips around us, throwing our hair in our faces, and carrying salt spray from big crashing waves up to us on the lifeguard chair and into our mouths.

The sun is still hidden when the sky begins to light up. I like to stare out across the ocean, watching the rhythm of the waves, a parade of big and small waves skirting up the sand, as if the water is trying to escape from the sea, or trying to explore outside the ocean. Closing my eyes, I listen to the waves crashing, and instead of feeling any fear thinking about the enormity of the ocean, I just smile, imagining the feel of the water on my skin, the sand between my toes, and the feeling of weightlessness when I’m on top of a wave.

The first sliver of sun is so thin I think I’m imagining it. Then a little bright spot in the distance peeks over the edge of the world and soon it explodes the sky into a medley of pinks, purples, oranges, and yellows, creating a huge, psychedelic quilt in the sky. As it rises I look at it as long as I can without hurting my eyes, snapping photos from every angle possible. The sunlight transforms the world with its shimmering gold color, and it lights up the ocean like fire. After we watch the sun completely appear before our eyes we jump down from the lifeguard chair, and begin to walk down the beach, stopping to take photos of the sun, shells and wildlife we find, and slow motion videos of the waves. Lines of tiny birds skirt around daintily, running to the edge of the ocean, but fleeing quickly when a wave comes close enough to grab them and sweep them away. I hunch over until my camera is inches away from the ground to get the perfect photo of small purple and white shells. I take a photo of some rocks in a puddle, and point out to my mom with great amusement that some of the rocks form a face with a long beard. We stroll, and as the sun continues to climb up the sky we get warmer and warmer until we rip off our sweatshirts and tie them around our waists. We walk further, and when we turn around our shadows loom far ahead of us, giving us short torsos and legs that are miles long. I snap more photos.

When we’ve headed towards the sun for long enough, we turn and walk back to our car, enjoying the peace and quiet as I pretend the little strip of beach we walked on was ours only.

We drive back home, but not until we’ve stopped for breakfast at the Candy Kitchen, smiling as we recognize the photos on the wall from previous years. Over the years we’ve chosen our favorites, including the giggly baby on the top left of the back wall. As my mom drinks her tea and I eat my bacon and egg on a bagel, I scroll through all of the photos I took, proof of my efforts to capture the ever-changing mysteries held by the ocean and beach, my fearful ocean experience of so many years ago now long gone.