A trip to the beach used to be so simple. You'd pack a towel, a bucket and spade and, if you were really adventurous, maybe a ball and those wooden bats that you only ever see at the seaside.
Once there, you might do some swimming or even run around on the sand but, sports-wise, that was that. The beach was for relaxing and chilling out – recharging your batteries in the sun. Not any more.
I drove to the lovely Cap Ferret (not Ferrat, that's the poncey one on the Côte d'Azure) near Bordeaux with the family. The idea was to have moules et frites at the legendary Chez Hortense before spending an afternoon relaxing on one of France's finest beaches. Bad idea. The beach was awash with sporting activity. Everywhere I looked was some strenuous pursuit.
To my right, a teenager was barely managing to stay grounded as he tried to control a large parafoil kite through some complex stunts. Just a hundred yards to his right, however, an actual kite surfer was setting off out to sea – he zoomed away before suddenly becoming airborne and being slammed back down with considerable force into the surf. He was helped gingerly out of the water by several sunbathers and, last I saw, was being carried off towards town over the dunes.
I tried to concentrate on my book but a gaggle of joggers went past. This being France, several of them were topless women – it was becoming very difficult to read in these trying circumstances. I looked out to sea – about 30 kids were bodysurfing on the Atlantic swell. They were whooping and hollering and having far more fun than I've ever had. I started to savour every painful wipeout and realised that I was rapidly turning into a grumpy old man.
I tried to return to my book but was interrupted by a large dog using me as a hurdle. It was after a frisbee its owner had thrown. The dog managed a breathtaking leap into the air, caught said frisbee and roared back, hurdling me once again and sending a fine spray of sand into my face. I thought of my beloved Labrador, Huxley, who was back in England. Even he would find this beach rather tiring, despite his love of the chase.
Out to sea, some tosser roared past on one of those stand-up jet skis. He spent the whole time checking the beach to see who was checking him out. I waited until the opportune moment before giving him the age-old Agincourt V-sign.
The family to my right got up and wandered down to the surf – what were they going to do, I wondered. Maybe a spot of kite-karting or perhaps attempting to all "hang ten" on a family-sized surfboard? My cynicism was uncalled for. The dad produced two of the aforementioned wooden bats and started to play with his daughter. This was more like it, I thought to myself. Then I noticed that the dad wasn't really paying that much attention to the game. He had his eyes firmly fixed on the beach volleyball about 70 yards away. Once again, in true French style, the participants were all topless women. I wondered whether the French tourism board paid comely young women a salary to wander the nation's beaches, luring middle-aged tourists.
I looked left – about seven boys, aged between seven and nine were throwing slim, oval-shaped pieces of wood along the surf-line and then jumping on them and sliding along the soaked beach. This, I found out, was called skimboarding and I admit it looked really good fun. The kids skimmed past us, laughing and shouting among themselves.
My kids looked at me in a way that made me realise that if I didn't go into town and fork out serious cash for some skimboards I would be a "serious loser." With a heavy sigh I got up, put on my silly middle-aged hat and started to trudge toward town. This was the most strenuous part of my day. To get there, you had to walk over huge dunes made of fine, crumbly sand. My feet sank deeper and deeper with every step. It was a gargantuan effort to keep going. Someone needs to invent the sand equivalent of snow shoes. Actually, scrap that – they probably already have and by the time I get back to the beach it will be all the rage and skimboarding will be "sooooo yesterday..."