Anyone who has spent time at an ocean beach knows that the big waves come in groups, or wave trains. Five is usually the number that seems about right. I learned that empirical fact in my early teen years every Sunday at the Riis Park ocean beach in Queens, NY. That was important since I loved to body surf. I also learned my capabilities of surfing, absent board or floatation device, and how to avoid the tumble in the curl or the bottom scraping in the shells that accompanies a less then perfect ride.
When young and inexperienced, I took the first big wave that came along. This gives a fair ride, as there will be enough water after the curl to keep you off the bottom and a fair run up to the berm. I told myself to keep the arms out front, keep the body flat and as stiff as possible. The hands act as forward foils and skid pads. That was important, to keep my chest from looking like the back of a just recently flogged pirate. I would also be out of the water when the following bigger waves roll in.
As my confidence grew along with my height and weight, the techniques were similar, but I waited for the bigger waves of the train. Third or fourth waves were the ones to watch for. The later waves might face the reflected backwash off the beach, especially if the berm is high on a steep winter beach. You can’t get a good run with that. The middle wave seemed to offer the best ride. The preceding troughs were getting deep. The height of the curl seemed to jump up. The timing of the launch was critical. The out-wash from the previous wave would try to suck you into the oncoming wall of water so you didn’t want to launch against the strong current. But you couldn’t wait too long and have the wave pass over you. Final launch included a last arm sweep to the side of your body. Head first, your feet and hands trimming like pectoral fins. Body trim was important. A slight concave body form will help. Don’t get too much of a down angle as you will surely tumble, maybe even hit bottom and end up with a head full of sand and shells. You may pop up just in time for the next wave to crash on top of you. Hopefully there is time to take a breath. But if all goes well you land high on the summer berm in inches of water, with little sand in your mouth. You look back, out to the ocean, just as the last wave of this train arrives and smile. Other body surfers may have missed their launch, tumbled or bailed out, but the sand in your suit was a testament of a ride well done.
“Watch for the second wave”. Or maybe the third. How different that means from the time when I was a young teen. The world is on lookout for the pandemic’s second wave. Are they ready to get in position for that ride to the beach? No, not everyone will ride it. Many on the beach will not even get their suits wet. Some of those in the water may tumble and bottom out. Some may not even catch that their breach after they get rolled. Most will make it up to the berm, even with the scars on their chest.
Here in St. Lucia, which is turning out to be our summer residents, the waves are calm. The first waves of the pandemic receded, no doubt due to the early on lock down and social distancing procedures of the country. How did we live with ten days of total closure? On even more days of no alcohol sales? Well, our rum locker was full and we do carry enough food to last weeks, even if that means granola bars and soup. No problem getting toilet paper! For a short time, we couldn’t go swimming by dinghy. The beaches were closed (I have a thing about “closed beaches”. Nobody can literally close a beach. Unless, of course, they drain the ocean or dig-up and haul the sand away. But what would be left? No, you can’t “close a beach”. You can, however, bar people from going there).
But it been almost four months now and most things are essentially open. We went with Narvin and Debra (Liferafts and Inflatables) to the Saturday market in Castries which is open. The local produce, meat and fish were plentiful but absent were the stands of t-shirts and souvenirs. No need to display those as there were no tourists to be seen. We noted that less than half the people had masks on. Since the island hasn’t had any known cases in weeks everyone feels confident that the wave has passed. However, last week the first “outsiders”, i.e. tourists arrived by plane from Miami and there are more to follow. They are “holed up” in all inclusive resorts and under “quarantine” in the resort. I suppose that is better than from where they came from, but the locals have taken note.
Debra (we are getting our life raft re-certified), advised us to move around the island now before the tourists start to arrive. All are concerned with a second wave that could arrive with the visitors. There will be restrictions and protocols and certainly the country will monitor the situation but will this be the next pandemic wave arriving on these shores?
Eyes looking to the States will not find any solace in how a powerful first world country deals with this situation. Well, maybe they do see a lesson in how “doing your own thing” sometimes is not a great idea. The first wave still seems to be racing across the country, even in the warmth of the summer. One can only imagine what the fall will bring. Open-air restaurants and outdoor activities seem to be recommended to limit the air-born spread of the virus. That’s easy to accomplish in places like this, but in cooler weather it is definitely going to be a problem. Schools and work spaces will definitely be a problem that must be solved.
I sit here thinking of the waves hoping that we learn the best way to ride and survive them. Many CARICOM (Caribbean Community) islands formed a “bubble” that will allow freer travel between islands and coordinated responses to help deal with any new waves that arrive on their shores. They hope the bubble will not burst and visitors will return. The big test will be in the fall when the season really resumes. Will anyone tumble, roll or bottom out? Will some pop up and catch a breath while others get pounded again and not be so lucky? There are worse things than getting sand in our bathing suits. We are all in the same water and we all must learn the way of the waves.
For now, the islands are almost devoid of their seasonal visitors. Dare I say that they are in their “natural” state? The beauty is still here, only the visitors are missing. Cruisers that have not sailed away have found their hurricane holes for their boats. They are now scrambling to find transportation off the islands for themselves. As much as it may seem like a more “natural” state, the addiction to the visitors cannot be erased. No doubt they will return, must return, for the islands to resume their economic survival. For the next month or two the islands will take a breather but the waves of visitors will surely arrive.