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Volume 38 Issue 14 • July 31-Aug. 6, 2008
now in our 37th season

Endless Summer

by Robert P. Barsanti

It has been a great summer for waves.  Hurricane Bertha just parked herself off the coast of Bermuda and sent sets of long swells northward until they rose and broke off the south shore.  When the wind settled, these slow paced six-foot waves came curling over the sandbars and onto the beach. 

As a result, this has been a wonderful summer for everyone with a surfboard.  They go to the beach strapped to the top of taxis, tied atop old Fords, and even slung from the sides of bicycles.  If there is a decent break, and the tide is right, ten to twenty surfers will sit out in the water paddling about.  Most sit on their boards out beyond the sandbar and look out to sea. In the last few days, I have seen a few standing on their boards, using a long gondolier’s paddle to steer them around.  Every decent wave will have one or two surfers attempting it, and more likely than not, riding it almost into the beach. 

Surfing, it seems to me, just came back to the island.  In my first years here, I remember seeing occasional surfers, but they were rare and well-rubbered.  They seemed to come out in the fall when the whirling ladies of the Carribean would spin up the Gulf Stream.  Perhaps there would be three or four boards in the water off of Nobadeer or Cisco, but very few of them would get ridden into the beach.  Instead, they seemed to be props, like a surf casting rods stuck in the sand.

It was a different beach then; with less people and more clothing.  The bikini came back about five years before the surfboard did; now the Pilates All-Stars have something to wear.  I remember people smoking cigarettes and cigars at the beach, drinking beers out of Styrofoam coolers, and listening to the Vanilla Ice or the Grateful Dead blasted out of a radio.  Air mattresses and inflatables ruled the waves before the boogie boards.

It’s hard to remember that now.  If I hadn’t found a set of old snapshots tucked into the back of my sock drawer, I would have believed that my mind is playing tricks on me. The girls were wearing one piece swim suits, the boys showed a lot of thigh, and Frisbees were filled with Fritos. 

Memories and history wash away at the beach.  The beach is always the beach.  You walk over the dunes and there it is in front of you, as it has been forever: sand, ocean, sky.  We would all recognize Cisco from those years.  The beach has the same sand, the ocean rolls in with the same waves, and the sky contains the same white puffs blowing over head. I am sure that a photo from the fifties would look the same, save for the haircuts and the swimsuits.

Cisco Beach has a long history, but we can’t see it.  Once, the Wampanoag divided the beach up among themselves and claimed the whales that washed up on their section.  Later, a hut and a tower overlooked the same sand, and sent out long boats to kill the right whales off-shore.  Years after that, the same boats went to sea to catch cod-fish and marine salvage.  And there were the usual lost sheep.   Nothing from that time is left, but the sand.

We can only measure time by what we can see of own works. When we drive through downtown, we can look to where there used to be a garage, or a drugstore, or a sandwich shop and pronounce the change to our children.  Normal, to us, is how it used to be last year. 

You can only see the change of years at Cisco in the margins of my snapshots.  The parking lot has long since been washed out to sea, along with a street of houses.  It happened at the edge of the photo and into memory.  To my kids, the photos are of sand, waves, and youth.  I have to explain it and they politely nod.

One year to the next looks much the same at Cisco, as does one decade to the next.   The wave I ride to the beach today could be the wave that my father rode in on thirty years ago and the same one that my son will ride in on thirty years from now.

That’s what brings us to the shore; it is always an endless summer. When we watch the waves march in from the horizon, we stop time. You set up the umbrella and the beach chairs, sit yourself in the sand, and free yourself from history.  Clouds pass.  Waves roll in. Years pass, forward and backward, and the child is father to the man. 

It’s a sunburned illusion, of course.  Sunbathing at Cisco owes itself to a trick of history.  It came about when people brought enough cars to the island so that Hussey Farm Road had to be paved.  And that only happened because people had enough money to take weeks or months off from work in the summer and go to the shore.  My grandfather would never have been able to surf.  He was too busy cleaning dishes at Anthony’s Pier 4.  Perhaps my grandsons won’t either, with gas and the world being what they are.  I may have to explain boogie boards to them, as if they are souvenirs or history, like vinyl records, tanning oil, or snapshots.

I may have to explain a lot.  I will probably have to explain Watermelon Creams from the Juice Bar and Italian Subs, Ms. Pac Man and Super Mario, beach driving and an unconnected life without phones, cable, or wireless internet.  History, I suppose, isn’t the houses that washed into the surf or the whales that were caught, but the stories we tell about them.
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