Hole-digging, Shimoda Beach

Mike Grist Guides, Japan Leave a Comment

I’ve always loved to dig holes. My earliest holing memory is in the back-yard with Joe as young kids, and us keen to dig a hole down to Australia, with what must’ve been toy plastic shovels. Some adult was egging us on, perhaps my Dad, and though even at the time I knew it was impossible, I still felt a certain excitement at the thought it was ‘possible’.

My Dad loves making sandcastles. I remember us on beach holidays, collecting shells to use as soldiers, arming the battlements as the sea rushed in, cheering the soldiers on like the musicians on the Titanic as they boldly played it down.

The stand-out beach-works though, the one that really captured my imagination, was one I witnessed on a childhood holiday I imagine in Staithes. There were two guys, I imagine a man and his grown-up son, in a nook on the beach between two tall chunks of rocks. They had real shovels, and were at once digging down, and also building up a wall of sand against the sea, flanked on either side by the rocks.

It was awe-inspiring to me. The sea was crashing against their wall, perhaps as tall as they were (though who knows how my memory might have exaggerated it), and they remained safely cocooned behind it, but still continuing to add to the wall, to stoke up the defences, to fend off the imminent breach for as long as possible.

They were surrounded by admirers, up on the rocks. Everyone was in awe and urging them on. To me it felt like history being written. It was perhaps the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

And I suppose that had me hooked.

My first real holes I dug on Hiltonhead island off North Carolina, on a holiday with my host family from when I was in school in Indiana. I arrived for some reason a few days before everyone else did, so somewhat randomly picked up the gardening shovel, and took it down to the beach with me. I dug my name in the sand. I made a big M. Then I guess I got down to digging.

I don’t have photos available now, but that hole was maybe 4 feet cubed. Not bad, but neither was it amazing. Still, it was enough to draw passers-by and to coax out some friendly conversation.

After that, every time at the beach I’d dig a hole. I never again had a shovel so conveniently to hand, so used plastic toy beach shovels, or driftwood, or my bare hands instead. It was always fun, but surely never very big or deep.

Until 2 weeks ago. I actually bought a shovel, and took it to a beach in Izu, for the express purpose of digging a mammoth hole. I suppose people on seeing me with the shovel- I went with 5 other friends- thought it was a bit weird, and that I would just tinker around in the sand some, make some sand-castles, and be done. I wasn’t even sure myself how big a hole I could make.

Sunday, our only full day on the beach, rolled around. I sun-creamed up. It was hot as blazes out. I body-boarded for a while, sunbathed, chilled. Then finally got out the blade, and traced a crushingly ambitious circle out onto the sand. Perhaps 7 foot in diameter. Then I got into it.

Going was slow at first. That wide a circle takes a lot of digging to get down even a foot. Loose top-sand, and lots of it. A wide circle was necessary though, if I wanted to go deep, because vertical sand walls collapse, so you have to let them cant in. And also, the deeper I got, the harder it would be to manoeuvre the shovel. So I went wide.

It was pretty tiring, but soon it was attracting attention from other beach-goers. Surfers and their kids, or people out walking their dogs, came by to peer in and check it out. At one point, when I was away body-boarding, apparently a whole family scrambled down into it to look around.

Then I hit water.

The crazy drunk Irish guy who had been running around like a madman chasing a little spaniel came over and eyed it up. His big older American buddy, with a lovely young J-girl wife, came by to check it out and give encouragement. He told me how he used to dig holes himself, on the beaches of Florida, as a young man. He confirmed it was fun, and great exercise. That was cool of him.

Then the little girls came. 4 of them, completely un-minded by their various sets of parents, standing around the hole, checking it out. I offered them the shovel. One of them had a go and managed to dig a little sand back into the hole. I thanked her.

Then I realized that the tide was coming in, and leapt into action. It was coming in, but slowly, and since I’d built my hole on a hump, I could see it was unlikely to reach that high. It would need some help.

So I set to work in a frenzy. I marked a channel into the sea, and I started to dig like it was a race against time, like those two guys digging up their wall to protect against the sea. Only here I was letting the sea in. I was drawing it in.

The canal grew closer. I was lengthening one minute, widening the next, watching the waves hungrily. Then suddenly, the first one slicked up to my feet, fell into the canal, and wormed it’s way about halfway towards the waiting hole. I callooed and callayed, you betcha. And got back to work.

Before long, the first torrent hit, sloshed down the sluiceway, and my hole was beginning to fill.

The small crowd gathered around; my friends, the little girls, the American and the Irish guy, all hurrahed.

We stood round the hole for a good while after that. It was like standing around a fire. Looking into the flames, their random patterns entrancing. So I found the hole, filled with water, sometimes getting sloshed by new influxes, sand collapsing, patterns shifting.

The little girls went down into the pool to check out the gross sea-froth on top. The Irish dude jumped right in and said it looked like a big beer. The American dude brought me over a Bucks Fizz, which I sipped while watching the hole do it’s thing and we chatted about the history of the area.

Soon enough, the surfer parents re-materialized, the kids dissipated, and the sun sank down. It was time to fill the hole in. It’s dangerous not to. So, fulfilled, and with the help of my friends, we filled it in in about one tenth of the time it took to dig it.

Thanks to Canadian Mike for taking these photos.

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