Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Beaches

Do sharks go nuts for period blood? Is Bette Midler full of shit? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Beaches! Just how much surfing did the Beach Boys get done on a daily basis? And what should you do with your dirty trunks?

Lie #1: Women Swimming on Their Period Will Attract Sharks

Sharks’ sense of smell is very impressive. They can detect tiny amounts of certain chemicals in huge amounts of water — one part in 10 billion has come up. If a shark can detect a teeny-tiny drop of blood, it’s probably best women just avoid the sea entirely for one week in four, right?

No. 

If one woman swimming on her period was all it took to bring in a great white, everyone who had ever swum in the ocean would be dead, as every beach would be non-stop shark attacks. Anyone who had ever scratched a zit on their ass while on vacation would have been devoured the next day when they went for a dip. Pizza-faced teenagers would never come back after the summer.

There are a lot of reasons having a visit from Aunt Period Blood doesn’t mean luring The Meg. First, detecting something isn’t the same as wanting to eat it. If someone farts next to you in an elevator, you’re aware of it, but it doesn’t mean you want to chow down on their butthole

Blood just isn’t as appealing to sharks as other things, which makes sense — blood in the water would generally suggest another shark has beaten you to your potential lunch. Sharks primarily want to eat fish, and are particularly drawn to the amino acids found within them, and can pretty much take or leave anything else. And there’s really not that much blood around — even a shark who was properly jonesing for human blood wouldn’t care a jot for uterine lining, cervical mucus or the rest of the various secretions that make up periods.

Something that will attract sharks, though? Swimming with your dog. One in 25 shark attacks on humans involves a dog splashing around them. 

And a massive 80 percent of shark attacks happen to men. Not only does that seem like fairly conclusive proof that menstruation doesn’t attract sharks at all, it also seems like someone should look into what it is sharks love so much about a fat set of nuts.

Lie #2: King Cnut Tried to Stop the Sea, What An Idiot!

There is a story about the 11th-century Danish king Cnut (sometimes written as Canute due to the name Cnut’s nearness to quite a rude word — “cunt”) that’s often vaguely mentioned when someone does something arrogant or hubristic.

According to this version of the story, Cnut was a little too big for his britches, high on his own kingliness, and went to the beach one day to order the tide to stop coming in. The waves, of course, bore his majesty no heed, resulting in wet feet and humiliation. That sort of deluded futility, that deliciously misplaced sense of power, is an incredibly satisfying thing to witness going wrong — it’s schadenfreude at its most justifiable. Fuck you, you silly king! Yeah, get wet, you dick!

However, Cnut was making a point, and knew his feet were in for a soaking. By all accounts of the time, he was a pretty great king, not the damp lunatic modern versions of the story make him out to be. In the oldest version of the tale, he took his courtiers down to the beach with him to witness his display in a bid to teach them that, while king, he wasn’t as powerful as God. In a later version, he was specifically trying to make his most ass-kissing courtiers rein it in a bit — basically doing a Christian summer camp-style skit to show them he was ultimately just this dude, you know? 

Sadly for Cnut, “arrogant idiot mistakenly believes himself to be all-powerful and fucks it up” comes up quite a lot these days, so even if he was still around, trying to stop his cautionary tale being repeatedly mistakenly cited would be like trying to stop… dunno, the wind or something.

Lie #3: “Hey, the Beach Boys Sure Love Surfing!”

Despite their first three albums being called Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA and Surfer Girl, their debut single simply being called Surfin’ and pretty much every promo image of them from the early 1960s featuring a surfboard, only one Beach Boy surfed. Dennis Wilson, the troubled drummer and backing vocalist (and former pal of Charles Manson), was a keen surfer and suggested to his bandmates, “Hey, surfing’s getting really big. You guys ought to write a song about it.” 

Most of the other big names in surf music did surf at least a bit — Dick Dale surfed, the Surfaris surfed and Jan & Dean surfed — but from 1961 to about 1964, surf rock was so huge that the combination of a vaguely handsome singer, some session musicians and a bunch of surfy keywords was pretty golden. However, after a few years (including replacing “surf” with “hot rod” and trying essentially the same thing), the Beatles came along and were the new hotness, and surf-rock bands either evolved or called it a day. The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson — Dennis’ brother and one of the non-surfers in the band — described those years as “every possible angle about surfing and then we did the car routine.”

The Beach Boys are still going, in an ongoing cycle of falling-outs and reunions, meaning some of them have now been singing about a hobby they don’t have for nearly 60 years. That sounds dreadful.

Lie #4: “The Best Thing to Do With My Wet Bathing Trunks Is Probably To Take Them Home And Wash Them”

Not if you’re a fan of sweet, sweet cash it isn’t. Why not sell those dirty trunks on the internet? 

“We’d always say you’re better selling them unwashed to someone on the internet rather than putting them in the wash,” says Natalia Baker from All Things Worn, a website for people who wish to sell or buy dirty underpants. “Many of our sellers have been using their time during lockdown to subsidize their income by selling used items. Some of our top sellers make over $1,000 a month selling. On average, our members sell their underwear for between $20 and $100.”

eBay doesn’t allow users to sell old undies, but even if they did, you’d be unlikely to get that much for them, and you’re very much encouraged to ship items clean. Peeling off your boxers and dropping them into a Ziploc bag (rather than leaving them on the floor for a couple of weeks) feels like a good deal for everyone involved, kinda. Baker explains that All Things Worn’s offerings go beyond underwear, with sellers also proffering their hair, toothbrushes and toenails. However, the most in-demand items currently are men’s used underwear, pantyhose and socks. 

You can monetize never doing laundry. Truly, we live in the future.

Lie #5: “I Can Fly Higher Than an Eagle / For You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings”

That song is from the film Beaches. It counts.

Bette Midler has no wings and cannot fly. As a member of the species homo sapiens, rather than possessing wings, she has arms. 

Even if she had wings instead, she couldn’t fly — humans’ strength-to-mass ratio isn’t suited to flying at all. The larger the mass of a creature, the more strength is needed to make it fly, but it’s not as straightforward as “bigger things need to be stronger” — the strength needed quadruples as the mass doubles. It’s been estimated that a 155-pound human would need a wingspan of 22 feet to fly. However, this doesn’t take into account the weight of the wings, which means they’d actually have to be bigger, so they’d weigh more, so they’d have to be even bigger than that, and so on.

This ratio is the reason large birds don’t fly, there’s a limit on how big insects get and monkey bars were easy as a kid but fucking suck as a grown-up.

(The biggest flying creatures ever, pterosaurs like the quetzalcoatlus, thought to have an 36-foot wingspan, got a lot bigger than modern birds do, but are thought by some scientists to have taken off in a completely different way, using all four limbs to kind of jump into the air.)

Birds have a few other things going for them flightwise that Bette Midler with wings instead of arms wouldn’t have either. Birds have hollow bones and air sacs in their wings, both of which help with that ratio thing, as well as a much more aerodynamic shape suited to gliding. Higher-altitude birds (and eagles don’t even make the top 10 highest-flying birds, making Midler’s untrue claim not even that impressive) use thermals in the air to help them fly, something the human body shape and it’s, uh, verticalness isn’t particularly suited to. 

There are two possible explanations for Midler’s outlandish claim. One, that she is employing a metaphor. Two, that she is in fact not human but a quetzalcoatlus, a terrifying ancient demonic flying nightmare. Rearrange the letters of “BETTE MIDLER’S SONG” and you get “BIG ELDEST MONSTER,” which seems pretty definitive. 

Fucking hell, Bette!