Unlike most of my outdoorsy peers, I didn’t grow up backpacking, or camping, or even hiking. Instead, my childhood involved long days on the beach in California, building sand castles with my dad, dunking under waves, and playing beach volleyball. The first passenger in my beat-up 1975 Chevy Monza when I got my driver’s license was my dog, Kimba; I’d promised I’d take him to the beach as soon as I could drive. He stuck his head far out the window, wagging his tail as he sniffed at the smell of salt water, anticipating his mad chase of seagulls. He loved the beach as much as I did.
The ocean opened me up to my love of the outdoors, something that’s shaped my life entirely. Now living in Boulder, Colorado, I hike, camp, and backpack. I go on long trail runs in the mountains with my friends and sometimes my dog, Lulu. My husband and I take our kids into the mountains to snowboard, hike, camp, and backpack. They’ve grown up Colorado mountain kids, and I don’t regret that. We love living in Colorado for many reasons, the biggest being the easy access to the mountains and all they have to offer.
But despite spending most of their childhoods in a landlocked state, it’s also important to me that my children grow up knowing the beach and respecting the ocean. One reason is that I want them to understand where I come from, and where the innermost part of my soul lies. Additionally, I think it’s imperative to the health and future of the ocean that our kids learn to respect it, no matter where they live.
The ocean, after all, is the largest eco-system on earth. According to the Marine Conservation Institute, oceans generate half the oxygen we breathe, contain 97% of the world’s water, and provide one sixth of the protein people eat. Our oceans reduce carbon dioxide and climate change impacts. Respecting the ocean is imperative for the future of our planet, and it’s something I care deeply about.
And so, when we take a family trip to the coast—any coast—I try to both inspire my kids by giving them quality beach time (yes, this is a little self-serving), and educate them on how to take care of it.
In Laguna Beach, CA, we visited the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to see rescued seals and sea lions in the center’s rehabilitation program. My boys loved watching the playful animals and learning how to identify a sea lion from a seal (sea lions have visible ear flaps, for one thing). While in San Diego, we visited the Birch Aquarium and read up on marine life while watching shark feedings and talks about why kelp is important to the overall health of the ocean.
On this past spring break, I’d looked for an organized beach cleanup to be a part of—through Surfrider Foundation, and organizations local to where we were staying—but the dates didn’t align with our trip. Instead, my family of four walked along the sand and picked up trash, which was, sadly, remarkably easy.
That’s not to say that we are perfect ocean stewards. We had to bribe the boys with ice cream to pick up trash, and we only filled one small bag before they ran off down the beach chasing each other.
But I do believe that by teaching my children things like how to use their big toes to pop seaweed bulbs, what causes the tides to change, and how to properly wear a beach towel around their waists, their own love for the beach and the ocean will evolve. And if I’m doing things right, by learning to love the beach, they’ll grow up to be passionate stewards of our oceans, and our planet.