Warm Sand, Cool Surf, Hot Rides

The Boardwalk is one of the last seaside amusement parks in the country; the Big Dipper is a wooden roller coaster that shakes nostalgically and ascends above the fumes of cotton candy and funnel cake only to drop back down again and snap a picture of you post-descent.


You’ll see yourself on the monitor on the way out of the ride, with the option to purchase prints. The pedestrian path that skirts the park is also a railway, often clogged with the park’s carts for either the food or ride companies. Full families of visitors idle, poised between returning to the car to add more meter change or to buy the all-day pass that sells for about $40. Parking is terrible and egregiously expensive, but such is the cost of the afternoon “in the warm California sun.”


A billboard advertises this slogan down CA Highway 1 South, somewhere near Moss Landing or Boulder Creek, of swampier reputations than inland Felton and less romantic than the north coast’s Last Chance.

The Boardwalk is a treasure, albeit a gaudy one: a jewel constructed from wood and concrete and steel, set in sand and water. It could be a relic in the winter, but instead it is a reminder of the absence of summer and sleepiness of the town out of that season. Not a relic then, but a dormancy, a shell of the manic joy of visitors, children who drive with their parents for a day of fun in the sun.


It is a humming tourist mecca, but I’m sure that as I walk through the park I cannot identify who is from where, except for the workers -- a few are faces I know from high school, and others are familiar only in their abstraction: earnest young adults trying to make money during the summer. It is not an insider-outsider relationship, and I realize this mostly because I’ll be going tonight to watch a movie on the jumbo screen they use for weekly Saturday night concerts (Eddie Money is the indisputable highlight of this concert season).


So while I watch Tom Hanks in “Big” tonight as the fog rolls in, I will enjoy the Boardwalk with less criticism, less irony. At the end of the night, I’ll be lucky enough not to have to drive freeways or take hours to get home; I’ll be able to just walk up the street.   



Chelsea Cater graduated from Vassar College with a Degree in Studio Art focused in painting. She currently works in an artist's studio in Brooklyn and a nonprofit exhibition space in SoHo. Her photo essay Warm Sand, Cool Surf, Hot Rides explores an ongoing relationship with tourist culture in her hometown of Santa Cruz, CA.