Beach Creatively, Beach Freely, Beach for the Future

Mike Lay
A piece by Mike Lay about his experience on the French Coast. All photography by Jack Johns

Beaches are places of openness and of acceptance. They accept humanity in all its beautiful sizes and colours. They accept wildlife and vegetation, they accept the seasons without blinking an eye. They accept the ocean with the widest arms of all.

With this acceptance comes a lot of joy... but also a lot of trash. Early summer this year in Hossegor, France saw an unusual amount of rainfall. While being a welcome drink to the sprawling pine forests of the region it flushed a monumental amount of debris from the rivers into the sea. This combined with the strong onshore winds that accompanied the rain meant a filthy chaos covered the beaches of south west France for many miles. Entire trees were marooned on the beach as far as the eye could see, they were the dramatic almost apocalyptic consequence of the rain, but upon closer inspection the darker side of the deluge became obvious. The once golden sand and azure water was clogged with pieces of plastic, from tiny to football sized pieces it was everywhere. Jellyfish like carrier bags bobbed through the lineup and a possible seal turned out to be a tub of paint. It is a sad thing to see the once gloriously blank canvas of the beach painted in such an unnatural, unmistakably human shade and hopefully our habits can quickly change to lessen our impact, even a small amount, on the environment that we love so much.

In the middle of all the ugliness and negativity something positive did arise. There is no place like the freedom of the beach to inspire creativity and soon, from the hands of surfers, dog walkers and school children alike, rose thousands of shelters and hideouts built from the washed up wood. Ingenious mazes, sculptures and lean-to's speckled the sand and transformed the beach back into the place of fun and freedom it once was.

After the storms the sun came out and a clean swell pushed through the Bay of Biscay. All the shelters became draped in towels, boardshorts and wetsuits and hidden under away from the suddenly baking summer sun. Eventually the water became cleaner and the rubbish of the rain was nearly forgotten. But hopefully not entirely forgotten, it should be remembered as an example of what our beaches might end up looking like if change isn't sought. And may the wonderful wooden structures that sprung up in the rain's aftermath be a lasting display of the positive change that we can achieve when we put our minds, our will and our creativity to task.