I grew up surrounded by the sea. I lived in a coastal town on a Mediterranean island and, in an age before social media and video games, trips to the beach were one of the few guaranteed methods of keeping kids entertained for extended periods of time.
Armed with egg sandwiches and limited accoutrements (a towel, mask and snorkel, at best), we would head to a secluded bay on the east coast of Cyprus that had yet to be discovered by developers or tourists. My mum would sit on the shore collecting shells as I headed into the depths, chasing rainbow-hued fish, hunting for the remnants of dead sea urchins and fleeing from the odd octopus nestled in the rocks.
My hands and feet would slowly descend in to a prune-like state and my eyes would become sore from the salt water streaming into my ill-fitting mask. As the sun set and local fishermen dragged their nets from the water, I would hear my mum calling for us to go home, but would pretend I hadn’t, so ensconced was I in my underwater realm. It was my happy place.
I recently wrote a story about the allure of waterfront living – I have always longed to live by the sea, but, according a recent report by property consultancy Knight Frank, that particular privilege comes with a premium of up to 90 per cent. Over the course of my research, I came across a book called Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Author Wallis J Simpson offers up extensive research that proves being near water has a positive impact on both our bodies and our minds.
Perhaps it is because our bodies are made up predominantly of H2O, or because the earliest organisms were water-dwelling, or because the planet we inhabit is so dominated by oceans and waterways – as a species, our link to water is undeniable. Simpson describes "blue mind" as "a mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment". That's certainly the case for me. While some revel in mountainscapes or city skylines, being near the sea always leaves me feeling calm, refreshed and reinvigorated.
And yet, in spite of all this, I rarely make time to go to the beach in the UAE. Every year, as the weather cools and beach season comes around, I promise to take advantage of the miles of coastline that are a short drive from my house. But I never get around to it.
Last weekend, because it felt like the weather was turning and I was reminded that, soon enough, relaxing on the beach will feel like sitting in an enormous open-air oven and swimming in the sea will be like bathing in a giant bowl of lukewarm soup, I made my way over to Kite Beach. I’m embarrassed to admit that it was my first trip to the beach in more than a year.
This time around, there were plenty of accoutrements. My friends and I staggered down to the shore weighed down by drinks and snacks, rubber dinghies and doughnuts, beach mats and bats, magazines, novels and foldable chairs. We laughed and splashed and snoozed and made pitiable attempts to play with beach rackets. There was a gentle breeze coming off the sea and the water was ever-so-slightly chilly.
As evening arrived, we joined the crowds heading over to Salt for burgers and cheesy fries, and were greeted by the sounds of a live musician. As the sunset turned the sky a dusty shade of pink, we walked the beach path alongside families, teenagers and erstwhile joggers, with a beautifully lit Burj Al Arab offering a picture-perfect backdrop.
I was reminded of the hordes of tourists who pay a fortune to spend a measly fortnight each year soaking up the rays on Dubai’s beaches, and felt guilty that I take that opportunity for granted. I was reminded of the joy of lying on a stretch of sand with my eyes closed, listening to the sound of the waves and feeling the warmth of the sun spread across my vitamin D-deficient skin. And I vowed, all over again, not to leave it too long before I head back. This is still my happy place.