“Be loyal to those who are loyal to you. And respect everyone, even your enemies and competition.” —–John Cena

As I stand there on the beach, tiny shovel in hand, I’m having trouble respecting my competition. I mean, why are all these people getting in my space? I’m just trying to stake out my spot. There’s plenty of sand to go around, right? Back off!

It’s about 4pm on a breezy afternoon in the Coromandel Peninsula, a lovely spit of land in the NE corner of the North Island of New Zealand. Donica and I have come here to experience the famous Hot Water Beach, a place where naturally heated mineral water bubbles up from the earth and lurks just beneath the sand surface. The thing to do here is dig your own natural hot pool then chill out and enjoy a nice outdoor jacuzzi, as it were, just a frisbee throw from the Pacific Ocean. Sounds cool, right? Well, it IS cool, actually. Just burrowing your feet into the sand and discovering a reservoir of hot water – really hot water – is a fascinating experience. But here’s the catch. The whole world knows about this place and wants to experience it too! The trick is to arrive here at just the right time, when the tide is low enough for you to access the small area where the hot water resides, but not so low that there’s no tide at all. You see, like I said, the water is HOT—I mean scalding. The ideal scenario is to build your little bath at just the right location, so that the hot water seeps into your hollow from below and cool water from the oceans flows in from above, rendering your pool Goldilocks temperature — “just right.”

At 4 o’clock, we have the beach pretty much to ourselves as we wait for the tide to subside. By 4:10 the hordes start arriving – tourists in shorts and sun hats, visitors from all over the world – with ravenous looks in their eyes — each carrying a little shovel that they either rented nearby or received from their hotel. And then the jockeying for position begins. “The water is hot over here.” “No it’s better over there.” “Wait, by the rocks is the best spot!” If there were just a dozen or so of us, as I’d expected for some reason, it would all be fine. But there are 100 people. 200. I can’t even count. And they’re all digging furiously, even though the tide is still high enough to wash away the sandy walls of their bathtub castles. Eventually, a few lucky souls get their pools built and relax into the steamy baths –aaaah. Asking if I can touch the water, I reach into one of the “tubs” and it’s burning hot. The builders haven’t bothered to bring in the cooling surf – they’re just going full lobster! To each his own.

Donica and I never do get our Hot Water Beach bathtubs built. To do so would’ve meant puffing up our chests and elbowing out the competition – literally – in an effort to carve out a “relaxing” place in the sun. This is not why we came here! In the end, we’re satisfied with simply digging down to the hot water level and marveling at the unusual phenomenon. As far as bathing goes, the lovely jacuzzi at our hotel will be just fine — with a LOT less competition.
(I just learned about this cool acronym – FOPO – “fear of other people’s opinion.” In years past, I might have worried about my friends chiding me for going all the way to Hot Water Beach and not building a bath tub. “What, you didn’t even try!” Or alternately, I might have let the tourist hordes push me off the beach entirely, without even sampling the hot subterranean reservoir. “They don’t want me here. I’m leaving.” These days, I’m trying to balance other people’s wants and expectation with my own needs and desires. What’s the right equilibrium? How can I feel satisfied without being aggressive on the one hand, or pushed around on the other. The balance has to start inside. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to carry a big shovel.)