Thursday, June 14, 2012

On Oceans and Water Stuff

Pacific Ocean  and Nye Beach from Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport, Oregon, March 2010
I've been watching a TV show lately called Bondi Rescue.  The show doesn't air in the United States, but I've been fortunate enough to find it on YouTube in various places.  Bondi Rescue is a reality television series that follows the careers of Australian lifeguards on Sydney's Bondi Beach.  I guess it is sort of like Deadliest Catch in that it follows the lives of people pulling things out of the water for a living (but there are sharks instead of icebergs and beach-goers instead of crabs; also, way less smoking).

As a native Oregonian, the idea of a beach full of people is beyond my comprehension.  I am used to beaches that are miles long with very few people in the water let alone on the beach.  During an average summer day at the coast on an average two or three mile long beach, I might expect to see three surfers, ten swimmers, and fifty people on the beach.  On a holiday weekend with very hot inland temperatures, the beach population might quadruple.  South Beach at Newport might see a thousand people stretched over five miles of beach.  Seaside will have more surfers, of course.  We're talking a population density of about one person every 260'.

Bondi Beach?  They get 40,000 people on a Saturday.  Say only half of them are there at any point during the day.  The beach is a kilometer long.  To translate that into terms I understand better, that's 0.62 miles.  If each person stands in a two-foot square, you'd need twelve squares deep spread across the entire beach for each person to have their own space.  With eight lifeguards on duty, each lifeguard is looking after at least 2,500 people.  If even one third of them are in the water at any point, that's still over 800 people for one person to watch.

Holy freaking crap.

On one hand, I sort of wish the beautiful Oregon beaches were a bit warmer so that we could have lifeguards.  On the other, I really like going to the beach when nobody else is there (you know, mid-November during a massive storm that nearly kills me).

Another tiny thing that always weirds me out about watching the show is that north and south are all backward to me.  I'm a west coaster.  When I look at pictures of the beach toward the ocean, I know instinctively that the water is west, the north is to the right, and the south is to the left.  Bondi Beach is on the east coast of Australia.  The open ocean is east for them, north is left, and south is right.  No matter how many times I watch the show, every time the lifeguards refer to the south end, I twitch left and think, "no, that is the north end!"  It just boggles my tiny Oregonian mind!

The big idea I just can't get over, though, is why people go into the water if they can't swim.  On every episode, lifeguard haul some half-dead non-swimmer out of the ocean, give them a lecture, and turn around to do it all over again.  Why are people so stupid!?

Maybe it's because I realize that Mother Nature Always Wins, but I have no desire to fly to Bondi and jump in the ocean.  Even though I grew up less than a mile from a pretty substantial river and am surrounded by some of the most clear and beautiful lakes in the world, I never learned to swim well.  The water in Oregon is usually somewhere in the temperature range of chilly (50° average on the coast in the summer) to snow/glacier-fed, so I don't do that whole swimming outdoors thing.  Jump in the Pacific Ocean?  No, no thanks, I've experienced that once and enough.

While the Bondi Beach-goers might leave something to be desired, the show's drama is pretty cool to watch.  I enjoy watching the lifeguards interact with each other with friendly banter and pranks, and I appreciate how different that part of the world is from where I live.  Their accent takes a lot of getting used to, and the rapid pace of the show is daunting at first.  The lifeguards are attractive on the whole, though, so even if I have no idea what they're saying, it sounds quite nice.  :)

Something tells me that even though I wouldn't mind visiting Sydney, Australia, I will still appreciate the view of the Pacific from these quiet beaches a little bit more.

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