Gulf of Mexico Waves
Over the years, I’d probably visited Florida's Gulf Coast at least 6 times and during each visit, the Gulf was quite calm for the most part. Once was in April where my wife and I spent time driving around the Naples area enjoying their beaches. Another time, we had spent time in Clearwater Beach in early January, checking out a good place to vacation. A third time was spent on the panhandle, near Destin, Florida. For each visit to the Gulf, we had outstanding weather, a light breeze, and no major storms. After a while, I didn’t think the Gulf was that fierce a sea, unlike a real body of water like the Atlantic Ocean.
Based on that experience, I never thought otherwise until this year. We’ve had plenty of windy days where the sea appears to show a little anger and attitude. Over the past several days, the waves have been between 6 and 10 feet. In these windy situations from the north, those skilled and non-skilled surfers, and I must add, those with heart, gumption and time, try to find the best wave to ride. Indeed, I’m not saying it’s as fierce as the Atlantic Ocean, that would be foolish to say. However, my latest experience with the Gulf has changed my opinion. going forward, I'm giving this huge body of water a lot more respect after seeing what sea is capable of.
Surfers on the Gulf?
When the temperature drops in the winter months in Florida and the weather gets fierce with the strong northwest wings, only those still on the beach are surfers and body surfers -- just south of the breakwaters. I don’t remember last year’s winter with so many surfers trying to find their perfect wave but perhaps I had not noticed. Anyway, it’s early February so all surfers and bodysurfers have some protective gear from cold Gulf of Mexico waters. I didn't realize it was so common to surf on the Clearwater beach but these diehards appear to know when it's the right time to go.
If your going to spend more than a few days strolling and walking on the beach, don't forget to include what shoes work well for which situations. I say that because I learned the hard way what shoes to wear on the beach and under which circumstance. I’ve taken longer 3 mile barefoot walks on hard sand and sometimes rocky shells, and it ain’t pretty. Indeed, the view is pretty and often spectacular but the number of sharp objects you may feel on (only partially callused) feet isn’t necessarily the best way of getting around on the beach. If you’re merely searching for shells, it’s probably less painful as you are more careful about where to walk.
Running or walking shoes are great on shells and hard sand as they can provide some traction if you want to take a longer walk. One other disadvantage of walking shoes is they don’t always provide the most comfort on uneven sand. It’s typical with a lot of uneven sand to experience pain on your arches or heels or another part of the bottom of someone’s feet by wearing shoes.
Regarding uneven sand, I own a pair of 20-year-old Crocs flip-flops and they’ll help out your feet too. However, flip-flops are for shorter distances as they don’t provide much support for hikes beyond a mile or so.
One more situation involves aquatic shoes and allows a swimmer or snorkeler to more safely move while in the water. My wife often does a “stingray shuffle” while she’s walking in the water – the thought is to scare any sea life from actually being stepped on. Don’t know how common it is to see stingrays near the beach area but if you have seen a few at all, having these water shoes provides not only physical but much emotional comfort.
I typically don’t look for shells; it’s just not something I often like to do. Strolling and looking for shells with others is fine, especially if they’re interested in all sea life that has washed up on these shores. This includes such things as Horseshoe Crabs, Conch Shells, many corals and sponges. People have to realize that many shells and other sea life are impermanent – the tide that brought them in may also bring them out to sea. Perhaps I’m jaded because, in the past, I had spent much time strolling and looking for interesting shells, crabs, and other sea animals. It’s not something I regularly continue to do, seeing the beach life almost everyday appears to have slightly numbed me to the once wonderment. Having said, that, it’s important to me when new visitors come to the beach, that I don't judge them on how excited they are collecting items from the beach. I was once in their shoes and to consider that I'm blessed with spending several months here, it's important that I see the joy and not judgment in their time spent on the beach.
UV Index 5 (Coming from the North?)
Just as a reminder, we just made it into February. With high winds yesterday and today, hats and parkas may be needed for any beach walks. FYI, with these winds sometimes exceeding 25 mph from the north, and with 6 to 10-foot waves, I didn’t see any seashell collectors on the beach. With this blustery weather too, very few walkers appear. If a few are game, with these damp winds, they become fast walkers. Anyway, if you spend time down here in February, be careful of the UV Index, especially if you’ve just made it down here. If it’s partly sunny and windy, your focus may not be on the sun’s strength.
This level of 5 doesn’t mean much in June or July as we’ve become accustomed to a day with more light, as the sun makes its track from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer. On the other hand, visiting Florida in early February, your skin and body may take a little time to acclimate. Keep in mind that in the Midwest, the highest amount for this time of year is between 1 and 2. One could also argue that most northerners don’t get outside to experience the sun in early February. Not sure if they’re too busy trying to analyze the feedback from Punxsutawney Phil and other woodchucks about the forecast of 6 more weeks of winter. I’m assuming that doesn’t apply to the South. So if you’re taking the cue from Phil and deciding we may have 6 more weeks of winter, head down to the Gulf Coast beaches for fun and relaxation. Just beware, the sun is stronger than you think so take the necessary precautions.
(To Be Continued)