Some of my oldest memories are of swim class holding on to a red kickboard blowing bubbles into an over-chlorinated pool. Even at 3 years old, I knew I was going to ignore Rule #1 and go “number one” in the pool every time. To this day, I know exactly what someone is doing when they wander off to the other side of the pool to “check the drain.” Graduating from the arm floaties of shame was a moment of glory for all us kids, it meant we were officially beach-worthy and ready to hit the waves!
Since seasons don’t exist in Miami and football games on TV were so blurry you might as well just listen to them on the radio, we hit the beach just about every weekend growing up. As a kid, beaches meant building sandcastles just to knock them down in the name of Godzilla, burying the youngest or most gullible kid in the sand, boogie boarding like a shark was after us and collecting seashells like we were in a fierce competition with everyone else on the shore. We’d draw our initials in suntan lotion and brag about our uneven suntans like a bunch of Coppertone babies, and like typical kids, we made sure to brush all the sand off our body after we got in the car. Even our vacations were just to another beach, and I happily traded not seeing snow until I was 13 for these endless days at the shore.
Before there was beachside lounge chair waitstaff serving up stiff umbrella drinks, juicy burgers and summer salads, it was up to mom to make sure we didn’t get so hungry we could eat a jellyfish. How that small Igloo cooler fit enough ice-cold juice boxes, turkey sandwiches and watermelon slices to feed a small army of us kids, I will never know. Occasionally I’d part ways with a bag of Fritos and toss them on my sleeping sister and watch the seagull frenzy wake her up like a scene from The Birds. These days I see families dragging massive car payment-sized coolers packed with a buffet and gallons of water and I yearn for simpler times.
By middle school, we traded in the sand-stuffed bathing suits for a membership to Grove Isle, where we would swim for hours while the adults played tennis and enjoyed frozen drinks. “Raisin fingers” just meant it was time to get out for a few minutes to eat some Cheese Puffs, last one out of the pool got the soggy ones, ewwww! Endless games of Marco Polo were played at the pool, and in hindsight, I would like to apologize to any of the innocent bystanders who were trying to relax as we shouted the same two words over and over for hours on end. When we ran out of games, my sister took it upon herself to train me to be a Navy Seal by holding my head underwater, pushing my ability to hold my breath to extreme limits. This aided my quest to meet a mermaid and led me to get SCUBA certified at 12. Watch out Aquaman, we can both breathe underwater now, although you are arguably far more ripped and rugged than I.
Not all of Miami’s water activities are coastal, head a bit west and you’ll eventually spot a system of canals. In the late ‘80s, my summer camp was adjacent to peacock bass and cottonmouth vipers. I totally think this wouldn’t fly with today’s helicopter moms. Though not officially verified, I held the record for the smallest fish ever caught by reeling in a 1-inch guppy — these days my bait eats bigger fish than that…
In college, road trips meant trekking to Daytona and Panama City Beach for all day and night keggers that played out like an MTV Spring Break party sans Pauly Shore and Spuds MacKenzie. Just thinking about it gives me a sunburn and a hangover. Since my degree wasn’t in mechanics, the jetski I bought after college was sold a few years later as a fixer-upper. It’s still my most memorable “Handyman’s Special” sale ever. I didn’t mind though, I spent more on replacing sunglasses in those 1,000 days than the actual jetski itself.
Pretty soon, every Friday around noon, group chats about which boats were going out and who was invited buzzed uncontrollably and wore my phone battery down faster than Candy Crush. It didn’t matter if you were in mid-presentation with the boss or in the loo, if you didn’t respond immediately, your spot was in jeopardy of becoming someone else’s opportunity, someone else’s photo opp. Of course, these drills were all just rehearsals for Columbus Day Regatta, the Super Bowl of boating. Why my friend’s dad trusted us to take his 65 ft. yacht out defies all logic. I decked those teak decks with 12 DJ speakers and a curated playlist that spanned from Christopher Cross to Soldier Boy. Pro Tip: If and when your vessel is being boarded by the Coast Guard, and you’re the only one who knows how to turn the music off, don’t tell them you’ll hit STOP as soon as Mr. Brightside is finished, they will never find that funny. Guaranteed.
Today, one of the few things that gets me up before sunrise is a fishing day. The real excitement isn’t getting up at the crack of dawn, no, it comes from the reel zinging to signal the “Catch of the Day” has been caught. While my motto used to be “Whatever gets you on the water”…these days I’m holding out until the solar-powered yachts are a bit more reasonable. Imagine no pollution and getting to spend that extra gas money on a bigger cooler!