Despite cloudy skies and a chance of rain, I went to the beach last weekend. Boarding the number 1 tram outside my apartment, I rode through the center of town, through a large park bisected by bicycle paths, past embassies with flags shifting in the wind, in front of the grandiose Peace Palace with its imposing tower, and finally jumped (not literally) off when I saw the sand dunes.
The town comes to an abrupt stop at the top of some dunes. No residential building sit directly on the beach. Instead, houses and hotels stand guard at the edge of the dunes, either protecting the town from encroaching sand or protecting the beach from further development. At the bottom of the dunes, a large, concrete and stone walkway with large metal lamp posts marks the area beyond which sandals, shorts, and tank tops are appropriate attire.
The beach in the Netherlands is like any other. Miles of sand in either direction, restaurants with large patios lined the edge of the beach. Pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders moving up and down the paved walkway separating the sand from the city. Small groups of people trying to stand on one leg to remove shoes and socks before running onto the cold sand. Kids building sandcastles while parents sit nearby and provide encouragement.
For about an hour, I read book and watched a man practice what I can only assume was kite surfing. He was strapped to a giant kite through a rather complicated looking harness, but he was without a board and stayed away from the water. Instead, he moved down towards the water, leaning back when the kite caught the wind. Then, he would move parallel to the water for a few steps, proceed back up towards the buildings, and repeat, creating a waveform pattern along the sand. I imagine all his hops and movements would be funny if viewed in fast forward; he would probably look like a grasshopper.
I eventually meandered up the beach, past vendors selling greasy fish and chips, ice cream, and various other fried goods. Like a seasoned Dutch pedestrian, I stayed clear of the bike lane and the cyclists careening past while texting or talking on the phone.
Eventually, I arrived at a pair of stone jetties interrupting the beach and marking the exit of a harbor. Fisherman perched themselves near the water on either side, some watching multiple poles. I wondered about their success rate so close to the harbor and associated boat noise. Perhaps they just enjoyed the routine of fishing. Maybe it was the only their only solitude during the week, their escape from work and family life.
The other side of the jetty gave way the section of beach used by a surf school. The swell of excitement and crash of cheers form students and instructors alike was much larger than the small waves breaking at the beach. Each time someone managed to stand up on a wave, yelling and high-fives abounded as if someone had just broken a world record. Happiness like that is contagious; I couldn’t help but smile as I walked back to the tram.