I post these nourishing, hypaethral quotations partly apropos of the fuss being made yet again by restaurateurs over what beachgoers can do on “their” beaches (see “Who Owns the Beach?,” a CL Tampa story which features my old friends Tom and Kristy on the dispossessed’s behalf, and an ungracious knucklehead on his own) and partly because it’s just that time of the year again — the time where, largely in an act of self-defense, we give up hiding from the sun and begin to collectively lie down in a maelstrom of its keenest rays. Not that season, when the northerlings flock because their native habitats have finally become too dreary and dank; no, the Season, when for we natives anything seems possible but probably not worth the effort.
First, a juridical meditation on what the sea means to us as a people:
There is probably no custom more universal, more natural or more ancient, on the sea-coasts, not only of the United States, but of the world, than that of bathing in the salt waters of the ocean and the enjoyment of the wholesome recreation incident thereto. The lure of the ocean is universal; to battle with its refreshing breakers a delight. Many are they who have felt the life-giving touch of its healing waters and its clear dust-free air. Appearing constantly to change, it remains ever essentially the same. This primeval quality appeals to us. [Quoting Lord Byron now, awesomely:] ‘Changeless save to thy wild waves play, time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow; such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.’ The attraction of the ocean for mankind is as enduring as its own changelessness. The people of Florida — a State blessed with probably the finest bathing beaches in the world — are no exception to the rule.
Skill in the art of swimming is common amongst us. We love the oceans which surround our State. We, and our visitors, too, enjoy bathing in their refreshing waters. The constant enjoyment of this privilege of thus using the ocean and its fore-shore for ages without dispute should prove sufficient to establish it as an American common-law right, similar to that of fishing in the sea, even if this right had not come down to us as a part of the English common law, which it undoubtedly has.
– Justice Armstead Brown in White v. Hughes, 1939
Chief Justice James C. Adkins, 35 years later, puts the point even more directly in City of Daytona Beach v. Tona-Rama, Inc., saying simply:
No part of Florida is more exclusively hers, nor more properly utilized by her people than her beaches.
God damn right.