One baby boomer’s endless summer

As young baby boomers, either we grew up at the beach … or we probably wished we did. Pat Boone, The Beach Boys, who could dream otherwise? BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, was one of the lucky ones, and still is, and after taking her two goddaughters to the beach the other day, she remembered her own Endless Summer.

Fair-skinned, uncoordinated, and nearsighted, I wasn’t playing a lot of beach volleyball. But still, the summer I was fifteen was my Endless Summer.

In the morning June gloom I biked a mile from my house to the pier, then along the beach to the end of the bike path, to meet five friends. The sun was sure to break through the marine layer by the time I got there.

Erin O'Brien at Redondo Beach, California.

Erin O’Brien at Redondo Beach, California.

When I say fair-skinned, I mean as in the complexion of a geisha. But I was undeterred: one of my friends was bringing baby oil and assured me that a couple of hours in the sun was the quickest way to a tan, or for me as it turned out, a heatstroke. It seemed like a terrific idea at the time, though.

A day at the beach required only a towel, suntan lotion (or baby oil), the latest Seventeen Magazine, a transistor radio, and a dime for the pay phone.

I parked my bike in the bike rack and my towel in the sand in front of the bike rack and the snack bar, which was a blue food stand with the big red FOOD sign. That was our spot. There we’d have a view of the waves, easy access to the line for frozen chocolate shakes and French fries, and any cute blond surfers arriving.


Only one of us, the Junior Lifeguard, had a boogie board, so we’d take turns, or just body surf, our arms extended over our heads, as we rode the waves until they crashed and petered out into foam. Over and over we swam out, our long hair floating behind us, as we waited for the next swell.

Dripping as we walked across the hot sand among the kelp, and finally collapsing onto our soft towels, the rhythmic pounding waves and the scent of Coppertone, the cries of the seagulls and the warm sun and soft wind filled my senses.

A bike ride back to the pier on the way home to buy a hot churro for 50-cents would cap off a perfect summer day. Before the six of us had gotten our first job or a driver’s license — that would be next year — that was my Endless Summer. Those moments, in the wind and waves, couldn’t last long enough for me. I wished I could stay fifteen forever.


Last week I went back. Our spot in the sand was the same — the lifeguard tower, the waves. But a new, smaller bike rack stood in the old one’s place, and the food stand had been converted to a café resplendent with umbrellas, offering quinoa salad and organic flaxseed granola. A young man neatly raked the sand to the streams of classical music.

But just for old time’s sake, I checked the menu …. then I ordered a chocolate shake and some French fries.


  1. Ah yes, how I remember the first sunburn of summer! Once that had peeled, the rest of the summer was fun.

  2. Gotta love baby oil, French fries, and chocolate shakes. We didn’t have the beach in Phoenix, but thanks to Erin, I was 15 again, laying by the pool and mesmerized by the film of baby oil floating on the water reflecting the HOT desert sun. SPF30 was for wimps! Could someone get me a glass of sun tea, please? With lots of ice!!!!

  3. Exactly like my summers in Manhattan Beach! Only I was a little too far to bike. My mom would drive us and a few neighborhood kids in her white station wagon. All piled in the back. No seat belts of course. She dropped us off and would return a few hours later to the same corner for pickup. Like Erin, I was freckled faced and pale white. I too had a friend with golden-tan skin who convinced me one day that baby oil was the way to go and she coated my back with the stuff. I spent the next 2 days in bed on my stomach! I look forward to Erin’s essays, once again she has struck a chord with me and brought back a childhood memory. Complete with the sounds and smells of summer

  4. What a fun story. I loved how you said for ” Old Times sake” you checked the menu and ordered a milkshake and fries. So fun!

  5. Nice story, Erin. I grew up in Redondo Beach too, and returned to my old stomping grounds about 10 years ago after almost 30 years back east. I appreciate the beach and the beach communities now more than I did way back when.

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