Down on the Farm: Beach culture
We in the Upper Midwest see Southern California through the lens of television, and frankly, what we often see are a bunch of flakes.
On the ground in Southern California, the reality is, yes, people here are unleashed from the constraints we feel back home. And good for them. I think it has to do with the proximity to the beach. Think about how people act on July 4 at the lake. Multiply that by 365, and you have Southern California.
Hundreds of miles of beach. Millions living within a stone’s throw of sand, sun and rolling waves.
The Grand Canyon is grand. However, once you’ve made the drive to get there and stand at the rim for 10 minutes, it is pretty much over. You could stay and hike to the bottom, or you could stand at the rim long enough to see the colors change as the sun moves, but who has time for that?
The ocean, meanwhile, has staying power. It is never the same. Waves roll in at different angles and heights each hour of each day. The tide rolls in, which in Carlsbad, CA means the rollers crash right against a bank of sand––then the tide retreats, which produces the long, slow waves surfers love.
To compare to the rural Midwest: I think the ocean provides the same spiritual sustenance to Californians as people back home get from our dominant religion, deer hunting. Experienced deer hunters talk about the joy of sitting in the stand those beautiful days of early November, watching nature.
The ocean has the same charm. You can watch it for hours. You can go stick a toe in the edge. You can walk for ten miles and back on the sand. The roar of the surf gives privacy. You can hide in your own thoughts. With everybody else lost in their thoughts, you can dance, sing, do push ups, whatever you want.
At the beach here in Carlsbad, a man in his late seventies climbs the cement wall each day and adopts the plank position. That is, he lays flat and raises himself only on his toes and his elbows, as if stopping to rest in the middle of a push-up. There he stays, stiff as a board. If you and I tried the same thing, we would shake with fatigue after twenty seconds. But he stays there and stays.
He has been doing this for years. His skin is beyond melanoma. I suspect at one time he was Caucasian, but now he is some form of leather. Passerby do not quietly mock, gossip, giggle or stare as they would in the Midwest. Instead, they stop and ask questions. Real, interested questions. The man gladly discusses his regimen. He does the plank position hours per day. Has for years. It has made him what he is today.
The beach is filled with others just as strange, but nobody thinks anything of it. One man sets up an easel: “Try the iron man challenge!” it says.
The iron man challenge, in this case, means he will let you put on boxing gloves and pummel him as hard as you can. I didn’t try it, but those who did got nowhere. He fended off every blow.
Meanwhile, the beach yoga class sits in rows on the sand. Anybody is welcome. Join during the middle of the class! No problem.
All over the beach town you see activities which would be mocked out of existence in the Midwest. A funk band plays outside at a beach bar. An elderly man with a massive mane of white hair shows up to dance. He wears a leopard suit, complete with tail.
Nobody blinks an eye.
Out on the water, surfers struggle for hours to catch one wave. Of all athletes, they must be the most conditioned––not from the surfing, but from the hours spent furiously paddling to catch a wave.
Skateboarding, I now realize, arose from surfing. When the waves went flat, surfers figured out a way to surf on land.
Today, a skateboard is the best way to navigate the beach towns. As traffic sits jammed, skateboarders, some of retirement age, scoot between the cars and get where they are going without having to park when they get there.
Southern Californians might seem flakey to Midwesterners, but that is more due to our stick-in-the-mud attitudes than the Californians doing anything wrong.
Think about it: if Grandpa wants to dress up in a leopard suit and dance to funk, why in the world not?