The ocean is the great equalizer

No one can escape its wrath. Or look cool while in it. Or not have fun while navigating it.

I’d been waiting for him all day. Through the whipping wind, blinding sun and the deafening sound of infants screaming from the sun screen seeping into their eyes, I spotted him. I knew it was only a matter of time before he showed up. If this were Jersey, his ilk would have showed up in droves much sooner. He’s harder to spot down south but he eventually emerged.

Now he was here and my day on the beach could proceed as expected.

For story purposes, let’s call him Joey Espresso. Or Joey Mortadella. Even just “Joey” works. Choose a last name to your liking. As long as it is “Joey”. That is a must. No exceptions.

Once Joey walked over the dunes and into the view of my fellow beach goers, it was game on.

Joey didn’t need no stinking flip flops even though the sand was a cool 237 degrees Fahrenheit.

Joey didn’t need no stinking sun screen. Just oil.

Joey didn’t put up no stinking umbrella. He needs no protection from the sun’s rays.

Joey didn’t wear a t-shirt upon entering the beach. 12 months of curls and benches at the expense of all core exercises was well worth it; chicken legs be damned.

Once Joey and crew set up their chairs, I just watched and waited. Waited for him to sweat uncomfortably. Waited for him to require a cool-off. Waited for him to rise and head towards the ocean.

The excitement was palpable.

As Joey swaggered towards the soothing water of the Atlantic, I watched him like a hawk. I ignored my family. My favorite beach past time was about to kick off.

But first, in case you weren’t aware, there are three ways that the male species can enter the ocean:

With Vigor

Run as fast as possible, hurdling the smaller waves that pass and hopefully dive with grace through an oncoming wave. Risky, but if pulled off it is hard to top this one.

Like a Dork

Stumble multiple times as the waves knock you around. Laugh at your inability to stay upright. Admit you’re a big dope. Embrace the comedy of it all.

Too Cool for School

Saunter in like nothing can knock you off course. Each wave is treated with disdain. Never let the wave win. Looking cool is paramount. No one ever pulls this off but dudes never stop trying.

To the shock of no one, Joey opted for #3.

He kept it together for the first few waves but the inevitable was coming. The impending failure was eagerly anticipated. Within seconds he stumbled into a hole and that coupled with a semi-powerful wave that crashed at just the right moment and Joey was going down. Down went Joey. The sweet smell of victory was all of ours.

But that wasn’t the best part. It never is.

The recovery is what I crave. I long for all of the recoveries. The more you deny the defeat, the better.

And Joey didn’t disappoint.

He calmly stood up, threw his hair back, flexed a bit to enhance the biceps and triceps and acted like it never happened. His ego wouldn’t allow him to believe that anyone witnessed his temporary fall from grace.

I saw it Joey.

It was awesome.

The ocean is the ultimate equalizer or unifier. At least where there are decent- sized waves like those we experience on the East Coast of the U.S. At some point, it will knock you down. At some point it will remind you that we are all at its mercy. At some point you will be made to look silly.

That’s why I love it.

While Joey is my preferred victim-type, there are so many others to enjoy as well. Just this past week as I floated over wave after wave with my daughter and my son stayed just far enough away from us to not be lumped in with his weird family, I witnessed so much more enjoyable carnage. Groups of different people lost in the joys and eventual beat down from the waves:

Dad knows all

Dad is with his young children. They are still young enough to hold him in high regard. Dad has battled these waves and this ocean for decades. He knows how to navigate every type of wave. The kids sit on his every word and do exactly what they’re told.

And then that one sneaky wave clubs dad upside the head and the kids no longer respect him.

Young love

They kiss for too long. They speak with that young love accent. They’re in perfect shape. He has dumb tattoos. She loves his dumb tattoos. They giggle as they are knocked backwards in the water. He holds her as the wave crashes over them. They splash each other.

And then they forget to look back and a wave knocks her to shore and she can never forgive him.

Old guy still has it

Back in the day, he could get slammed to the ocean floor and easily recover.

Back in the day, he could get plowed by a wave and still hold on to the football just thrown to him.

Back in the day, he could spend hours in the water without losing a breath.

Now he doesn’t body surf for fear of a neck injury. Now he only tosses the football on shore and preferably out of the public eye. Now he is exhausted after 10 minutes in the ocean.

I like this particular guy a lot.

It isn’t all about being knocked down by a wave to remind us of the ocean’s power over us. The ocean also owns the power to make us smile and remember a simpler time in our lives.

A throw-back to when we were kids and first felt confident enough to take on that huge imposing wave.

That first time you felt it in your stomach as you easily floated over a large wave and then watched as everyone else behind you took cover.

The first time you realized that ducking under a wave ensured your safety and gave 11 year-old you, confidence that you could hang with your older cousins at Long Beach Island, NJ in 1983.

Next time you are in the ocean, observe all of the smiles. It’s hard to get knocked around and get sand in your drawers without laughing and smiling. Watch a dad smile as his kids eagerly face a wave head-on. Watch a mom do her best to not grab her young child from the water as she falls down in the surf and then display a giant smile of relief as the child stands back up and begs for more. Watch a grandparent reminisce and remember when they had the strength to get knocked silly by a wave.

While my daughter and I were playing a game of “turn your back to the waves and see if you can survive” I carefully watched a group of young ladies to our right. Not carefully watch in a creepy 45 year-old guy kind of way, but from a social experimentation point of view. Either way it’s creepy, but you get the point.

Anywhere else in the world and these girls would be taking selfie after selfie. Endless overly-filtered pics and videos on Instagram and Snapchat. But not here. The ocean won’t allow it.

You could see that their hands were unsure of what to do with themselves. But as time wore on, and the ocean continued to humble them and provide free entertainment, you could sense that they enjoyed the social media break. They could be kids again. They were inventing their own ocean games on the fly. They were genuinely laughing without any self-consciousness.

A simpler time.

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