Words by: Heath Scott “So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” ~ Hunter S. Thompson Sandbridge. A place to recreate. A place of beauty. A place of tranquility. A place many of us call home, whether a physical one or one we tap into mentally and emotionally when we need comfort and reassurance that life will be ok. That is the power of this little beach community…that it can magically transport you to a more blissful place, whether your toes are actually buried in its healing sands, or you’re just wishing they were. I first discovered Sandbridge during the summer of 1989. I had just finished my freshman year of high school in Newport News, VA, and somehow developed what some might describe as an unhealthy obsession with surfing, even though my feet had never graced the top of a surfboard. To my wonderful surprise, my good friend Jeff Lyons’ family owned a summer house in Sandbridge, to which I was invited to spend a month that summer. This was my official introduction to real surfing, not just riding foam on a body board. My naïve fourteen year old mind didn’t realize the decision to spend that month in Sandbridge would change my life forever. Heath with his 9’2 Frierson Longboard That’s the way Sandbridge is. It’s insidious. It gets beneath your skin, crawls through your veins, and settles quietly in your soul. Quite a contrast from the oceanfront beaches just a few miles to the north. They both have Virginia Beach zip codes, but the oceanfront is anemic, lacking in soul or spirit, whereas Sandbridge cultivates these things, creating a feeling of home, even from two thousand miles away. Borrowing from the anthropologist Edward Hall’s theory of culture, the oceanfront would be considered a “low context culture,” meaning relationships aren’t nearly as intimate, time moves quickly, and there simply isn’t the network of friends that feel like family. Sandbridge dances at the other end of the spectrum. Hall would describe it as “high context culture,” meaning relationships build more slowly, are founded on trust, and are the precursor to any “business” that needs to be accomplished. People rely less on the verbal, because after all, when you’re family, things don’t necessarily need to be said to be understood. Change is slow, friends become family, and individual identity melts into that of being part of the greater whole…Sandbridge. It’s the unspoken, the invisible that keeps drawing me back to the northern tip of the Outer Banks. After my initial introduction to Sandbridge, my friend Jeff and I would make the hour long pilgrimage from the Peninsula as often as we could. However, since neither of us had a driver’s license yet, the trips were fewer than preferred. We were so obsessed with the place that after we could drive, we worked out a deal with my mom, who was our high school guidance counselor (not ideal in most situations, but it worked out here), that if we kept our grades up, she would give us a few passes each semester to skip school, and head to Sandbridge. We’d monitor the weather, check the surf report, and time our “sick” days appropriately. Just as with my introduction to the Grateful Dead around the same period, I knew there was something magical going on, but I would need some years and a few rounds of life sucker punching me before I could formulate or appreciate the unique beauty of the music or the place. There’s “something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mister Jones?” I just knew that I felt more at home in Sandbridge than anywhere else. Moving three more hours inland for college gave me a new sense of appreciation for my adopted home. As with most people who leave their hometown for college, being exposed to people from all walks of life, and all corners of the globe, forced me to step back and pull focus on what I had, and realize that there just might be something irreplaceable going on in southeastern Virginia Beach. My true introduction to the Sandbridge community was during the summer of 1995, when I officially began working for Tom Shell’s operation in the now shuttered jet ski rental wing of Ocean Rentals. I had already been around the business, and unofficially helped in numerous capacities for a few years, because Jeff’s older brother Billy had been lifeguarding for Tom, and as younger siblings tend to do, we tagged along so we could be part of the fun. Often the fun would include stacking sandbags in front of Tom’s driveway, and moving lifeguard stands back from the surging surf when hurricanes would threaten. But somehow even this unpaid, physically demanding labor was enjoyable. Tom ensured that it was. He was a master of the good-hearted Jedi-Mind Trick, making everyone feel like they were having fun, even in hurricane conditions, but most importantly he made everyone feel like family. This is when I truly got hooked, when I discovered the meaning of “extended family,” one of my choosing, not one that was forced on me by genetics. Sandbridge is the definition of the phrase “more than the sum of its parts.” Of course, it’s the natural beauty, the solitary sunrises over the ocean, the rapturous sunsets on Back Bay, walking south from Little Island, with a vast expanse of “empty” beach stretched out ahead of you, as far as the eye can see. But Sandbridge is so much more than this. It’s the “Market” and its timeless charm. It’s catching some music at the Baja, while the sun slowly slips away. It’s the quick hand raise from the friendly driver of a passing car, as you race to check the surf at S-Turns. It’s the annual Pig Pickin’. It’s the general consensus that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if a hurricane selectively took out the fairly recent addition of the assorted condo complexes…“ya know, only if no one got hurt.” But most importantly it’s the people. Again, I find similarity with the Grateful Dead. I have always been drawn to offbeat people, people who don’t fit into the mainstream, those that find comfort in the extraordinary, in the fringes of society. Though somewhat different, I have found “my people” at both Grateful Dead shows and in Sandbridge. When I first started visiting Sandbridge, it felt like an outlaw community, full of people who didn’t fit in, who liked to drink, partake in other substances, who just might be a little sideways of the law, but above it all had an unflinching passion and appreciation for the ocean. I loved it. Though the knave of gentrification has reached its brazen hand down Sandbridge Road, the community still attracts those that eschew the mainstream, the outlaws, the artists, the entrepreneurs, and as Jack Kerouac would say, the “mad ones.” All of these individual parts mix into a melting pot to create a larger whole that has always felt like home. I never knew that my summer job renting jet skis in 1995 would result in an ongoing and over twenty-year relationship, and dare I say, love affair with Sandbridge in general, and Ocean Rentals/Surf and Adventure Company in specific. But again, this is the power of Sandbridge, and the people that call it home. No matter how far, or for how long I roam, Sandbridge always beckons me back home. I can’t escape, and that’s a good thing. I have worked in some capacity, and for some stint, with the good folks at 577 Sandbridge Rd, almost every year since that infamous summer twenty two years ago. I have rented jet skis, managed the lifeguards, cleaned toilets, led kayak tours, delivered enough linen to outfit the Russian army, written blog posts, and even painted rental houses. The time and events involving Sandbridge that have entwined through my life are deserving of a Hunter Thompson Gonzoesque novel themselves. But for now, I’m always grateful for the chance to return to Sandbridge, whether it’s from my time in London pursuing a graduate degree, my short-lived residence in Costa Rica, the unintended two year sidetrack to the cornfields of Ohio, a brief tenure in Gloucester, Massachusetts, or where I have finally decided to put down roots, Durango, Colorado, a small town in the San Juan Mountains. My most recent return home was a physical one. After an incredibly difficult two year divorce, I knew I needed to ground myself again, and I knew that Sandbridge was the ideal place to do this. As always, Rob greeted me with open arms, and offered me a part time job helping out around the shop. It felt like not a day had passed since I was there. Sandbridge immediately began working its healing magic. Old friends Heath somewhere above Ouray, CO on the Hardrock 100 course. reappeared, the Market still looked exactly as it did back in the nineties, and the salt and sand still smelled the same. My original plan was to stay through the summer, but my daughter and the mountains were beckoning me back to Colorado. Unfortunately, I was only able to get one session in with Rob, but the healing that one day bestowed was incalculable. The feeling of paddling out, without knowing exactly what the day would hold, the rush of dropping in, and the sheer joy of sitting on a surfboard, with no concept of time, talking with an old friend, was just what the doctor ordered. I left shortly after this for the Homeric drive back across the country. Though I am now in Colorado, and have once again traded surfing for mountain running, I will always be grateful for a small beach community on the East Coast, and the people that always make it feel like home. I know for myself, like many others, Sandbridge Beach will always be home, whether in the physical form, or one I return to in my mind and heart while I sit two thousand miles away, staring over snowcapped mountains, dreaming of the way the salt air and ocean mist mingle with the people I consider my extended family. The Maroon Bells between Aspen and Crested Butte Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.