You would think that I — a kid born in California and raised in Hawaii, a decade-long wannabe bodyboarder and a general lover of all things oceanic — would consider the beach the finest summer leisure destination of all.
And, on the right day in the right place, you would be correct. There’s something so soothing about just sitting in the powdery white sand of a locals-only beach on Oahu’s eastern shore, feeling the warm teal water lap against your feet. Few things are as thrilling as paddling into the barrel of a clear, glittering wave, hearing the roar of the water begin to close in as you skitter toward the shallows. And surely nothing is as photogenic as a late-summer sunset falling on a beach, casting long shadows and a beautiful, gauzy glow.
But here’s the thing: That’s the beach at its best. And let me tell you, having surveyed the so-called legendary beaches in California over my decade-plus living here, it’s hard to get the beach at its best. Oftentimes, you get out of the car after an hour(s)-long drive to find yourself standing in a pseudo-desert that feels like it’s 115 degrees, with a bunch of screaming kids sprinting in circles, loud country music blaring on a crackling Bluetooth speaker and a swath of murky gray-green water littered with seaweed and fucking tar balls. (Hi, Manhattan Beach! What’s up, Malibu?)
This is why if I’m going to have fun splashing water in the summer heat, there’s only one consistent, genuinely entertaining option to rely on: The old-fashioned American water park.
I know what you’re thinking: Holy shit, my guy — you just complained about screaming kids and random music and grossness and now you’re stumping for Big Water Park™?
The punchlines about water parks just being cesspools of chlorinated water, wanton urine expulsion and scalded feet are all, to some extent, rooted in truth. For me, however, the water park has always stood out as the easiest way for a crew of friends to gather, spend hours cackling in genuine childlike wonder, cool off in a dozen different ways and still have access to hot chicken tenders and cold beer at all points of the day.
Jumping into the ocean is cool, but have you tried floating in a pink inner tube on a lazy river after getting stoned on a high-test weed pen? Throwing a football at the beach is fine, but how about peer-pressuring your brother-in-law into a 75-foot drop ride that you’ve caught him staring at nervously all day? Why take another crappy beach pic with shadows on everyone’s face when you can instead take home a framed photo of your group screaming as you plummet down a 50-foot funnel of water?
I can’t help you with the piss thing — yeah, there’s a bunch of pee everywhere. Still, the water quality is dependent on each water-park’s management, and again, it’s not like the ocean isn’t full of potentially yucky shit, either. Not to mention getting sticky from saltwater and the fact that sand tends to get everywhere, whether it’s your genitals or just in the crevices of your car seats. At least at the water park, I know that the facilities for showers and bathrooms are clean and regularly maintained.
The water park will never be as romantic and cherished as the beach in our collective consciousness. But at the end of the day, it’s still American ingenuity at its finest and most insane. So you can have your sandy beaches. To me, nothing captures summer fun like a theme park that runs on water.