Sarasota: The First Word in Beaches

By: Ryan Nance

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Discover the definition of beachiness on the beaches in and around Sarasota.

Beach lexicography isn't an idle pastime. Beach lexicographers, like me, aren't, as we are often called, beach bums. Sure we spend a great deal of our time in board shorts and flip-flops with sand between our toes. But, this is serious business, or as we say in the biz, beachiness.

Sarasota is ideal for a beach lexicographer, with so many definitive examples of beachiness so close at hand. As evidence of the importance of our work, I'd like to present a page out of my latest work-in-progress, my Beach Lover's Dictionary. These definitions were refined and developed through patient and extensive research on the beaches of Sarasota County. Each required a visit for study. Luckily, I have a beachologist's kit (beach umbrella, collapsible chairs, sunscreen, an extra pair of board shorts, flip-flops, sunscreen, bottled water, a Frisbee, beach sieve, spare sunglasses, hat and beach towels) in the trunk of my car for whenever the need to study a beach arises.


sand (sÄ?nd) n. 1.a. Small, loose grains of worn or disintegrated rock. b. Geology. A sedimentary material, finer than a granular with grains between 0.06 and 2.0 millimeters in diameter. c. Beachology. The stuff a beach is made of - the beach lover's mattress, chair, playing field, walkway and sculpting material. Fine, white sand is most often considered the ideal beach covering.

In my search for the perfect sand, I found myself on Siesta Key, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Sarasota. I'd heard of its legendary soft white grains and was determined to verify it.

When my wife, Mrs. Beach Lexicographer, and I crossed through the broad, shaded picnic area off the parking lot, we caught glimpses of a wide, evidently popular and gently sloping bed of sand extending from numerous volleyball courts all the way out to the startlingly vibrant blue Gulf waters.

When we actually made contact - that is kicked off our flip-flops and stepped onto the powdery stuff - it was unlike any other sand we'd ever encountered. Silken, both warm and cool to the touch, firm yet soft. This indeed was the sand of legend. I was a little surprised, though, that the sand wasn't as white as I'd imagined until my wife nudged me, pointing to my sunglasses. I lifted up my shades to get a real look at it - resplendent, gleaming with the clarity of sunlight.

Stunned, I needed to be led onward by sure-footed and patient Mrs. Beach Lexicographer. We laid down our towels and stretched out on the sand. I lay studying this miraculous sand between my fingers. This indeed was the definition of sand, the definition all beaches aspire to.


seashell (sÄ?'shÄ?l) n. 1.a. The calcareous shell of a marine mollusk or similar marine organism. b. Beachology. Nature's handiwork, mementos of beach memories.

Many beaches have sand studded with intricate, sun-bleached seashells. But for serious shellers (that's the technical term), the North Beach of Manasota Key, just off the coast of Englewood in southern Sarasota County, is a treasure trove. A quick trip over the bridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway took Mrs. Beach Lexicographer and me to sandy, palm-shaded North Beach. The picnic shelters and lifeguard station hid the beach from view, but we could hear, even from the parking lot, the distinctive sounds of sea and sand colliding. But my well-trained beachologist's ear heard something more - shells along the waterline being tumbled and mixed in the surf.

We crested a sand berm and took in the wide beach. There were many places for us to establish a base. We picked a spot just above the high-tide line, laid out our towels, planted our beach umbrella and applied sunscreen (an invaluable part of any beachologist's kit).

With shells on my mind, I headed toward the Gulf. After just two steps into the crystalline water, I knew my shelling aspirations would be fulfilled - a ten-foot-wide band of shells ran the entire length of the beach in a foot of water. I brought up double-handfuls of shells - from broad-bladed scallop-edged shells to tightly coiled corkscrews - scores of different species. With a nearly encyclopedic collection of calcareous treasures, this beach was a virtual museum of seashells.

I could have filled the rest of the day (and several large pockets) with this cornucopia of shells. Instead, I selected just two fine specimens and returned to our base to show Mrs. Beach Lexicographer my finds.


shark teeth (shärk tÄ?th) pl. n. 1.a. The fossilized remains of large, prehistoric sea dwelling carnivores. b. Beachology. One of the most sought after treasures of beachcombers the world over.

Beaches are much more than places to play - they are places to learn, explore and discover. I wanted to investigate the rumors that Caspersen Beach on the Island of Venice, just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Venice, was rich with the fossilized teeth of sharks that were common to the area hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The feeling of seclusion at Caspersen excited Mrs. Beach Lexicographer. Just a short drive south from the Venice Fishing Pier, the road to Caspersen is banked high with sea-oat-covered sand dunes and seemed to take us away from civilization.

We parked in the lot near the ample picnic area. There is an intricate boardwalk system that weaves through screens of mangrove and palm. It stops at several shady spots for a beachy picnic break and breaks through to decks overlooking the beach.

Our first sight of the beach - a sandy point of land punctuated with rock reefs spilling onto the sand - matched what we'd imagined a shark-tooth beach should look like.

Unlike many other Gulf beaches, Caspersen seemed to extend out into the turquoise waters. The bright sand dipped into the waters. There was a zone of thigh-deep water perfect for scooping up sand from the bottom with a beach sieve. It didn't take many tries for me to discover a small tooth petrified by time and burnished by sea and sand. Large pristine specimens are less common, but far from rare at this beach that is a favorite for shark teeth aficionados.

Our paleontological finds here were not as newsworthy as the uncovering of a buried T. rex thighbone from a dusty high-plains butte, but when has paleontology ever been so relaxing?

When we'd had our fill of the petrified treasure hunt, we settled down on our towels for a well-earned beach nap - sleepability is an important beach characteristic requiring vigilant study.


surf (sûrf) n. 1.a. The waves of the sea as they break upon a shore or reef. b. Beachology. Surfer's delight. The very reason for a surfer's existence.

Of all the breaks along Florida's Gulf Coast, Nokomis' North Jetty is said to be the most consistent (I believe awesome is the technical term). Anxious to see with my own eyes and surf it for myself, I packed up my surf stuff - board, board shorts, rash guard and sunscreen - and headed for North Jetty Park. With a quick stop along the way at the Windflight Surf Shop for a fresh bar of wax, Mrs. Beach Lexicographer and I pulled into the pine and palm-shaded parking lot. The channel was remarkably blue, and the slowly arcing white of Venice Beach on the other side of the channel extended south into the distance.

As I paddled out, Mrs. Beach Lexicographer opted to stay on the beach and take sun and sand readings, an important part of any beachological study. She did, at one point, walk out the smoothly paved jetty to visit with me, as I floated a few yards off the end and awaited the next set. Jetty surfing is always great - consistent, convenient and often with an up-close audience to be impressed by your bodacity (noun form of bodacious). Venice's North Jetty Park is a definitive example of jetty surfing at its best. We were even impressed with the showers on the boardwalk for washing away the fine white sand.

With this basic beach lexicon, beach nuts can navigate their ways to the beach of their dreams - be they of legendary sand (Siesta Beach), chock full of shark teeth (Caspersen Beach) or seashells (Manasota Key's North Beach) or prime surfing grounds (North Jetty Park). This thankless beach lexicographer and his patient wife have worked hard to bring these important definitions to your attention. It is serious work, this beachiness.

For more information on beach getaways in Sarasota County on Florida’s Gulf Coast, visit www.SarasotaFL.org or call Visit Sarasota County at 800-348-7250.

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