My Life In Beaches
Behind the sand of the shoreline stood a four-story high watch tower constructed of gray beams with a square white top surrounded by large windows. From that platform Coast Guardsmen were able to aim their binoculars and scan the waves for miles looking for German U-Boats in the waters off Georgica Beach. But, in 1947 when my family first saw it on a weekend visit the war was over, the Coast Guard was gone, and the tower stood like a quiet sentry overlooking a nearly deserted breach. No lifeguards and miles of clean sand with perhaps a half dozen people enjoying a gray windy day that whipped the blades of grass in the dunes. At age seven, I had been in salt water in the Sound off Connecticut, but this lonely strand with big pounding waves, seemed much wilder. I was impressed and unsure I liked it.
But people change and so do beaches. How could I know at that young age what wild fun on the sand lay ahead and what desolate shores I would enjoy in my future? A few years later I would learn to love the surf while swimming in giant Pacific swells off the coast of Ecuador and Peru. Later on Georgica would become my beach of choice. Before Georgica, after my parents bought a home in East Hampton, my favorite surfside spot was East Hampton Main Beach.
My first visit there was not auspicious. Having spent the previous two years at remote seaside locations in South America, I was awed by a beach with such a large crowd of people. Also alien to me was the beach enforcement crew perched on a high white throne in the center of things overlooking the sparkling surge of surf.
I plunged fearlessly into the high, blue waves and was past the break enjoying my swim when I heard the shriek of a whistle. Someone was waving at me to move in toward the shore. Fine, but a strong current was running. It would take an eight-year-old some time to paddle through the tide rip. Apparently I was not moving quickly enough for a glory-seeking lifeguard who decided I needed “saving.” He swam out, announced, “I’ll get you in kid,” grabbed me and pulled me through the break. He ran towards the beach dragging me behind him letting the falling waves that missed him crash onto me. On the beach I stood humiliated as people gawked at what they thought was a little “rescued” child.
Despite this early experience, I would spend many years at Main, which was closer to my home, as my favorite sand playground. Not that I forgot Georgica. By the time I was a young teen, the abandoned tower overlooking the beach offered excitement and challenge. The stairs from the first to the second floor had been removed, but by climbing the slanted crossbeams at the bottom it was possible to reach the remaining steps and climb to the top. Up there one could view the beach and ocean for miles in every direction. Behind the tower high over the lush, green treetops I could see the stars and stripes flapping lazily from the tall flagpole on Main Street.
The way up to the tower top remained for years. There was less policing then. On Main Beach I remember sitting with a crew of mostly college guys I worked with at Bohacks supermarket. No one bothered us as innumerable cans of Ballantine beer were sipped. There was no rowdiness and at the end of the day the pyramid of tin was all scooped up and the beach left clean.
Later on I would work briefly beside Main Beach in the Sea Spray Inn, a bustling hotel then, that later burned to the ground. The wait staff were all college kids, many Ivy Leaguers. After lunch everyone went out to work on their tan and at night there were roaring fires and beach parties with marshmallows, beer and loud singing.
Back then it was easy to eat on the beach. My parents had frequent cookouts at Georgica and fuel was easy to find. Walk a ways down the shore and it was easy to grab loads of driftwood for the fire.
Decades back there were almost no people on Georgica Beach in the evening. In my college years it was an amatory playground at night. I remember laying on a blanket with the moonlight glowing on our nude flesh as my girlfriend and I embraced each other- sometimes tangling later in the surf.
How different from a future time when, in shining waves off Georgica I would cradle my first born son in my arms as I introduced him to the ocean. And last year, when I made a beach fire to make smores for my granddaughter, it was carefully controlled in the required metal container. How different from my childhood. The beach is narrower now, chipped away by years of erosion, but still remaining beautiful in moonlight and sunshine.