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The Long, Strange Road to Ocean Beach
By Sven Eberlein
I am German, and let me tell you, we know beaches.
Before I could even walk, my parents carried my crib on a cheap, obscure charter trip to the shores of the Romanian Black Sea. We went on vacations to the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas during my elementary school years. By the time I was old enough to plan my own itinerary, I had taken my urge to escape the prison of landlocked existence to the shores of Gran Canaria (Spain), the Isle of Skye (Scotland), Goa (India), and Ko Pi Pi (Thailand).
When I first came to North America about 14 years ago, I was in ecstasy --more oysters to be cracked! I headed for the Florida Keys, Virginia Beach, Kona and Makaha (Hawaii), Seward (Alaska), Big Sur, Baja, and Vancouver Island. Whether it was to hike up cliffs, surf the waves, or just get a lazy tan, my reverse caveman instincts would lead me directly to the beach whenever I wandered within 50 miles of a coastline.
So now that I have established myself as a legit beach critic, I feel psyched up enough to reveal to you the path to absolute beach nirvana. As the Buddhist minds among you may already have sensed, the place I'm talking about is right here in our fair city. Yes, after circling the planet several times, I have found that the light of ultimate joy and contentment shines on a stretch of sand only a 30-minute bike ride from my Valencia Street apartment: Ocean Beach!
I consider myself a spiritual person. To transform a restless state of city madness into a peaceful blend of mind, body, and soul, I've tried yoga and sitting meditation. I've been to Glide Memorial Church and even wandered parts of the Strange Road to Santiago de Compostela. But the one and only pilgrimage that brings me closer to the true meaning of "present tense" is the journey I embark on almost every Friday afternoon, rain or shine. It's my day off, or really, my day on.
After a bagel, a cup of chai, and some beautifully subversive literature at Café La Boheme on 24th Street, I jump on my old faithful bike, which the kids at Pedal Revolution so righteously fixed me up with, and ride down Valencia Street. I kitty-corner at 19th Street so I can cruise down Lapidge Alley to admire the mural on the Women's Building. I never ever get tired of seeing it -- such eternal wisdom and energy! Then up 18th Street and right on Sanchez, to cross Market. Thank all gods for Sanchez Street; they had a warm spot in their hearts for us city bicyclists -- wide lanes and slow, mostly resident cars. I weave my way through the shops and cafés of the Lower Haight to get to the queen of all bike-friendly streets: Page Street.
This is the first time on my journey I'm facing due west, my front wheel pointing directly to the Promised Beach. No more traffic, some stunning Victorian flats, and only one more short hill before the forces of gravity will be in my favor the rest of the way. It's a beautiful day in winter turning to spring: clear skies, mild sea breezes, 70s. After weeks of rain, the first magnolia trees and lavender bushes are responding to the sun's invitation, with thick skirts of colorful blossoms. I'm now rolling down JFK Drive, flying past Rose and Tea gardens like there's no tomorrow.
Halfway through Golden Gate Park I turn off into the somewhat tangled web of trails on the western end of the park. Each Friday is different, and I just let myself be guided by the day's impulse, since ultimately all roads lead to Ocean Beach. Today I hobble down a rugged, root-strewn trail past an equestrian course before getting stuck in mud puddles thriving in the shadows of coastal madrones. Before I know it, I find myself in the middle of an archery club's practice field, awed by yet another curious park activity. Next I smell salt in the air, then I'm looking at Murphy's windmill on the right, and then..............yeaaaahhhhh!!!
There she is, this vast window of liquid blueness, creator of tides, keeper of my soul. I lock my bike to the sign that says you're going to die a dreadful death should you decide to frolic in the ocean of peace. I take off my shoes and start running through the sand until the cold water splashes up the sides of my shorts.
Did I say "shorts"? Yes, I caught one of those rare days when Ocean Beach rewards its loyal patrons for sticking it out through thick and thin (fog and wind) all year long.
The beach is an unbelievable sight!
In most other places in the world, a city's entire population would stream to the beach on a picture-perfect day like today. But in this town, and on this stretch of sand, it's about quality, not quantity. Ocean Beach serves as a reminder to the world that it is possible to bring people of all different backgrounds together with a smile on their collective face. It's the only place that transcends San Francisco's mixed stew of neighborhoods (often more stratified than we'd like to admit). The beach is where you see the spiked-haired punk petting a yuppie's dog, the Indian family watching the outdoorsy dude fly his kite, the hard-core dyke helping the Latino boys build a sand castle, the pot-bellied tourist chatting with the rad surfer chick. Whatever your colors, on this piece of land you are part of Mother Earth's complete and visionary masterpiece.
I crack myself up with the thought of a board of supervisors meeting out here, or hell, why not get George, Ariel, and Yasser, drawing some peaceful ideas in the sand. The wide-open views and cool, fresh air might work wonders. I'm telling you, this is what O.B. does to me, that crisp Pacific breeze just makes me lose any sense of boundaries.
At sunset, the afternoon contingent is replaced by the bonfire people, who are preparing for a long communal evening under the stars. I feel like staying, but the slowly emerging goose bumps on my skin are telling me otherwise. I hop on my bike once again, knowing that I've inhaled a dose of tranquility that will last another week. And even if I don't make it next Friday, just knowing that I'm so close to the coolest beach in the world makes navigation through city life so much easier.
You won't ever meet a happier German. I swear.
Valencia Street resident Sven Eberlein is a regular contributor to Rhythm and Sail magazines. He is also a guitarist and songwriter for the band Chemystry Set.