A detail of a watercolor painting of Point Lookout by...

A detail of a watercolor painting of Point Lookout by artist John Rice that was given to essay writer Paula Ganzi McGloin and her husband, Billy, commissioned as a wedding gift,   Credit: Paula Ganzi McGloin

You don’t need to be a swimmer, a surfer or own a house in the Hamptons to be a beach person — you only need to love the sand and surf.

Growing up in an apartment in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, didn’t stop my family from having a beach ritual. Zach’s Bay at Jones Beach is the backdrop to countless childhood photos. My dad, born in Manhattan, was a long-distance swimmer who learned in the East River. On summer weekends, he’d get us up early so we could spend the day -- and because parking was free before 8 a.m.

Years later, I ventured to West End 2 with my girlfriends in search of a deep tan and cute guys. By the time I was married, I’d made Long Island my home. Bellmore may not be a “beach community,” but at least it’s on the South Shore.

Long Islanders often identify themselves in subtle ways: North Shore or South Shore, Nassau or Suffolk, an exit on the Long Island Expressway, a patron of a favorite pizza place, or the beach they frequent. Ours was Point Lookout.

Come Memorial Day weekend, summer breezes mock stubborn calendars insisting it’s spring. We flock to the shore and let the beach enchant us. A friend in Rockville Centre rents workspace in Long Beach so she can break for bike rides on the boardwalk. On Fire Island, my writer gal pals and I found inspiration. After I was widowed, I sought Mother Nature’s embrace walking the boardwalk at Jones Beach Field 4. Once I started dating, the beach was often a destination, with the romance of sunsets and surf irresistible.

When my husband, Billy, and I retired and moved to Delaware, a location we chose for its proximity to the shore, we had to find a new spot. Rehoboth Beach is high-energy with its boardwalk, restaurants and shops, including the cool indie bookstore that hosted my first book signing. But we chose the quieter Towers Beach, reminiscent of the Point Lookout vibe we love.

My Long Island beach pride is stirred by other shores. In Destin, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico, the sand is silkier, but we missed Point Lookout's mobility mats that make access easier for beach carts. In Lincoln City, Oregon, we spotted whales, but the water is colder and the sand grittier. In Honolulu, we loved the lagoon-like turquoise waters, despite the cluttered coastline of high-rise buildings absent from Long Island’s shores.

Slogans on Delaware bumper stickers, T-shirts and tote bags – “Stay Salty” and “Life is Better at the Beach” – reflect the lifestyle on Long Island and in our new hometown, boasting the bliss and freedom of life in flip-flops.

The beach is democratic. It calls to us regardless of age, income or season. We go to see the sun sparkle on the water, evoking our thoughts and dreams. We go to feel the sand beneath our feet and walk the shore, not just to exercise but sometimes to exorcise life’s troubles. We go to hear the soothing surf and seagull squawks that signal paradise found. Similar to the way turtle hatchlings instinctively know the direction to the ocean and scurry to the water, so too are we drawn to the beach.

We go because the beach is in our blood. Billy and I go because of the captivating memories of our childhood and adult years on Long Island’s pristine coastline.

Reader Paula Ganzi McGloin now lives in Millsboro, Delaware.

SEND AN ESSAY about life on Long Island (about 550 words) to expressway@newsday.com. Essays will be edited and may be republished in all media. Include your full name, address and telephone numbers.


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