The US East coast West coast debate has been going on for years about everything from rap music to fashion to food and more. Most of it is in fun. So, it stands to reason people have opinions about the ocean that borders their coastline.
My most impressionable time was in South Korea. From birth to age 10 I frolicked in Earth’s largest ocean basin in the world – the Pacific. The waters were warm, the beaches were wide, the sand was easy to wash off, the water was deliciously salty and I grew up watching a lot of sea creatures swimming beneath the clear blue green waters. I often boated with my uncle on fishing ventures and the smell still is in my memory as a place of calm and renewal.
When we moved to the US, my father was still on active duty in the Army so there were NO vacations for years. We moved to the mountains and I did not see my first Atlantic beach until I was in college. The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean basin in the world.
My first view of the Atlantic Ocean was at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My college friends crammed into a car and took me on a whirlwind, spontaneous road trip when they discovered I had NEVER been there. Granted our spring break was in March and it was still cold and we were broke, but they were hell bent on giving me the experience. After what seemed like an ETERNITY in the car we finally arrived and I stood there staring at this empty town, the grey waters and winced and the smelly scent wafting in from the waters.
I knew what a sacrifice it was for everyone to bring me here and I did not want to seem ungrateful so I said nothing about my first impressions. I simply thanked them for the experience. We found free parking, took our shoes off and walked on the beach. Even the sand was grey and there were lots of broken shells. I was hesitant to even wade in the water as I could not see the bottom and the only live animals I could see were the seagulls. I really tried to act excited but my heart was not in it. Luckily they seemed satisfied and we got back in the car for yet another long drive.
I have returned many times to the Atlantic coast. In the US, Delaware, Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Puerto Rico all boast sandy beaches, marshlands, bays and barrier islands. I have visited Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, South Carolina and Virginia beaches.
In 1991, I got my first teaching job in Pamlico, North Carolina. The Pamlico Sound is basically a saltwater lagoon. It’s about 80 miles long and 20 miles wide. It is part of the Outer Banks coastline which I have fallen in love with. It is believed that original Spanish explorers first mistook this body of water for the Pacific Ocean. I will say the smell and feel of the water here was much closer to my homeland than any other part of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Sound is fed by three different inlets, Oregon Inlet, Hatteras Inlet and Ocracoke Inlet, which not only connects it to the Atlantic Ocean, but maintains the salinity levels as well as the water levels. But unlike the Atlantic Ocean, with depths which can reach 20′, 30′ or even 50′ feet just a hundred yards off the beach, the Pamlico Sound remains relatively shallow throughout, with an average depth of about 5′-6′ feet or so, even well offshore. So for a weak swimmer like me, it was a haven. Plenty of boats and ships use the water but you need to be an expert to know where and when your craft can be on these waters. I loved how the small towns felt more like villages and I enjoyed by many years of living there. I still have dear friends that I visit from time to time.
I enjoyed exploring all that the Outer Banks had to offer. I skipped water play and explored the history, the nature preservations, the sand dunes and many museums with my then boyfriend, friends new and old, my future husband, and then with our children. Many times, it was lovely and enjoyable.
I have been to Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island, Kitty Hawk, Manteo, Elizabeth City, Nags Head, Corolla, Kill Devil Hills and Duck. I am sure I have driven by or through more but those are the places I actually rented from and spent time in. There are great conservation aquariums, light houses, historical sites and lovely restaurants that will have you coming back time and time again. Myrtle Beach would draw me back once in a while for their hotels with water parks when my kids were younger, but it never became my favorite destination. Myrtle Beach will forever seem dirty to me. I found this article not too long ago that helped me to understand I was not the only one who called it Dirty Myrtle:
I never went farther than knee dip in any of the beaches in South Carolina. Even before the numerous swimming advisories I could see with my untrained eye that the water was dirty, I could smell it in the air and I was frustrated how hard it was to wash the sand off my skin. The kids and I often left the beach with a rash or an “insect” bite we could not identify.
My husband, who hails from West Palm Beach was perplexed why an ocean loving gal like me would not swim in the Atlantic Ocean. When we went on a cruise to the Bahamas, the waters were crystal clear and I dove in and swam. When I did, his mouth dropped open and he was shocked and amused. “So you DO swim in the Atlantic Ocean” he said, slack jawed. That was when I explained that I found the beaches near our home to be quite unattractive and dirty. But here, in the Bahamas the Atlantic ocean seemed much cleaner and I was moved to swim. I could see the bottom and there was plenty of thriving sea life swimming around me.
On my recent adventure to the West Coast, I visited Oceanside, California. While the water was too cold for a swim, I stood at the waters edge and walked into the blue green water, filled my lungs with the air and I was transported RIGHT BACK to Pohang, South Korea. I could not believe how similar the smell was. I wept– I was so moved by the sensation!
Every time we drove around, I made sure to roll down my window and drink in that delicious salty air. It’s settled. No matter how many years I live on the East Coast, the Pacific stole my heart 54 years ago and I will have to say it wins all over again.