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The Beach… is That Way.

California beaches are a different animal from the ones we’re accustomed to up in the Northwest. I’m sure that sounds like a wildly obvious point to be stating, but hey, I don’t always claim to be a visionary.

The family plans for Christmas Eve Day didn’t pan out like we expected, so I headed down to Santa Monica, to skate the beach and snap some photos towards sunset. Sun, sand, ocean, people milling up and down the path, and 19+ miles of bike path ripe for skating? Yeah, I can go for that. No, I didn’t skate the whole 19 miles–that’s the kind of stamina I can only dream of, at the moment–but it was still a kick in the pants, and I think I may have spied another derby girl skating the path, too.

It was something of an exercise in people-watching, too. In Venice Beach, there are swings, rings, pull-up bars, and people engaging in various forms of physical conditioning on the equipment. There were plenty of people on bikes and rollerblades, and folks out on their afternoon jogs passed by me; there were parkour tricksters in action, and even a guy running through a Yang-style Taiji form. I probably should’ve just been happy for Taiji Guy, but I couldn’t help mentally noting his awful flow and middling stance work, because I’m a big jerk like that. 😉 Still, seeing that many people performing these acts, in a concentrated area that wasn’t cluttered with workout machines and wall-mounted television sets felt a bit strange.

The closest parallel I can think of for that phenomenon is, well, the parks in Beijing. I’m not exactly accustomed to seeing so many people clustered together in the same area, doing conditioning on publicly available, outdoor equipment. That was something I saw pretty frequently in Beijing, though: exercising in the parks seemed to be something that practically everyone did, no matter what their age, and you’d see people getting buffed up on outdoor apparatus while cars flew by on the road, maybe 10 or 20 feet away. There was a sense of community to it, even when the people were partaking in their own individual routines, and that continually struck me as unusual, while I was there. Exercise that isn’t attached to a team sport has always felt like a more isolating experience, to me. One of the reasons why I avoid peak hours at the gym, and choose running in quiet neighborhoods rather than in the midst of a cluster of treadmills, is because there’s a certain appeal to losing myself in the repetitions, the counts, the continuous pounding of feet against pavement or trail, with no concern for the people around me.

In much the same way, the beach in Oregon always feels like a place I can go to lose myself, for a bit. It’s colder, cloudier, often much soggier, and it’s easy to just avoid all human contact, and let the salt air and the sounds of waves crashing on rocks take over. The beach in Santa Monica is quite the opposite, however: very sandy, sunny, and pretty, and you basically *can’t* get away from people for more than a precious minute or two. It’s no wonder the seagulls seem less people-shy here than they are up North.

Still, both places are beautiful; one simply feels more like home than the other.


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