Never Turn Your Back On the Ocean

Juliane Bergmann
9 min readJan 27
Only looks peaceful from a distance…(photo by me near South Point, Big Island of Hawaii)

On a hike to Onomea Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, I watched a little boy play in the rocks near the water, his parents close by. A surprise wave hit him in the back and soaked him. Startled, he moved higher up the beach, while his dad admonished him:

“Never turn your back on the ocean.”

I’ve proclaimed my love for the ocean for decades. Yet, I never actually swam in the ocean until this trip.

I lived my first two decades in a part of Germany with a mild and rainy climate, dotted with rolling hills and rivers, small lakes and forests. I spent my second two decades in Montana, nestled beneath steep mountains and buried under more snow than I’d ever seen. More rivers and lakes and forests, but never the ocean.

I dreamed of the ocean and I talked of the ocean and I sometimes stood with my toes in the sand staring at it for a long time. On a visit to see family in Maryland when I was a teen, we went to Ocean City, where I stood in the water on an overcast, windy day. On my senior class trip, I made out on a beach in Malta with my first real boyfriend. On a work trip to Florida with Rob years back, I almost took my clothes off and ran into the ocean in my underwear. I didn’t. On a family vacation to Oregon, I remained on the sand while counting the heads of our six children and forever calling them to come back, you’re too far out!

My phone storage is full of long weekends and one road trip down the West Coast, Washington, Oregon, and California. Always pictures and videos of the ocean crashing into rocks, rolling onto beaches. But zero pictures of me in the ocean.

I loved the idea of the ocean, without ever experiencing it.

My ‘idea’ of the ocean sort of exists but pales in comparison to its ‘reality’ (photo by me on my favorite beach)

Ahead of this trip, I swore to myself that I would go swimming. I stood at the edge of the water, scared. Close up, the ocean wasn’t magical, but terrifying. Or, rather, it was still magical, which made it terrifying. A whole world underneath the surface with currents and riptides that could kill me, sharks waiting for breakfast, brewing underwater storms. I was vacationing on a fucking volcano that was still erupting mere days…

Juliane Bergmann

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