Just call me Bob

By: Daniel Hutchinson

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

 It is one of life’s great mysteries: why are we so drawn to the water?

Like tens of thousands of others in the Bay this year I have jostled with other humans on the roads, parked up the car, burned my feet crossing the sand dunes and run the gauntlet of biting insects.

I do all of this just to plunge my bi-peddling, land lubber body into an environment so totally alien that I might as well have shot myself out of a cannon into outer space.

As the receding waves try furiously to suck me out and the incoming surge warns me with a cold slap on the belly, there’s a strange sense of health and wellbeing.

That’s the weirdest thing, because on the face of it the ocean is not a great place to be for a human being.

 

Small fry

For starters, in hand-to-hand combat, we are nowhere near the top of the food chain and fish don’t even have hands.

You could say the same thing on land of course. I wouldn’t play bullrush with a hippo, wrestle a tiger or fist-pump a silver back.

But in the ocean, we really are at a disadvantage. I’ve got a mean side stroke but even a baby fur seal can swim circles around me. The main problem, of course, is that we can’t breathe underwater. With 14 drownings since Christmas Eve, New Zealand is on track for its deadliest summer in the water for 40 years.

To add to that, all summer we have heard reports of great white sharks up and down the coast in unusually large numbers and, in one tragic case, with deadly consequences.

Then there are all the people who have emerged from the water covered in red itchy stings, apparently caused by thimble jellyfish. Pharmacies near the beach report dozens of people every day turning up covered in spots and seeking some relief from the pain and the itching.

Some of those spots are attributed to the mysterious insect with the serial-killer name - The Mount Mauler.

 

Brain power

So why do we gain so much pleasure from a dip in the ocean, with all its salty side-effects?

My favourite position is to float just behind where the waves break – the sensation of rising and falling is magic. My middle name is Robert, but when I’m in the water people just call me Bob.

This yearning for the ocean could be explained by University of North London neuroscientist Michael Crawford, who reckons it all stems back to when humans separated from apes.

These hairy forebears started eating fish and shellfish – foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and excellent for promoting brain cell growth.

He says its no coincidence that human brain growth started increasing dramatically once we swapped the woods for the waves.

 

The joy of surf

Swimming is also a very energetic thing to do, and apparently the only recreational pursuit that burns more calories is sex.

Given my body surfing style, the ocean provides way more positions than a roll in the hay ever could. In fact, 30 seconds of vigorous tumbling in the surf like a mako shark on a sugar rush and I’m back to being Bob for a bit.

Proximity to the ocean is also thought to do wonders for mental health, and this is backed up by a study in the UK which involved a smartphone app and 20,000 users who made more than a million reports on their state of mind.

This was correlated to their geographical location and the findings were quite clear – the happiest people were those near water or in the great outdoors, away from urban environments.

There is a wealth of other studies that show proximity, and even just being able to see the water, is a great way to get rid of stress.

 

Taking precautions

It’s hard to be happy if you are being swept out to sea though, so stay between the flags or at least have someone watching out for you when you’re doing the wild tango in the waves.

Drowning should only ever be a metaphor and never literal, so like many other things its about knowing your limits, limbering up and choosing your position wisely.

The ocean is also very good for your skin, unless a stinging or biting marine creature takes a fancy to you, and sand is apparently a very good natural exfoliant. Anyone who has belly landed in the shallows will attest to that.

So be safe folks, pack the sunscreen and insect repellent and soak up the summer with your favourite people.

daniel@thesun.co.nz