Plastic Beach


Every summer Bournemouth's population more than doubles as tourists from near and far descend on what is one of the busiest beaches in the world.

Bournemouth has been a popular destination to visit for British people since the Victorian times when the ill and infirm used to visit the town spending months if not years at a time convalescing in the belief the sea air could cure their ills.

Today during the summer months over four million visitors head for the town from day trippers, holiday makers, Londoners jettisoning from the city for the weekend and students from the many English language schools that dot the town. It makes for a vibrant cosmopolitan mix of people from all walks of life and parts of the world. 

The clogged roads, noise and rubbish tourists create however mean for some locals the phenomena feels like an invasion. But behind every invading army there's a greater purpose driven by a human need, and having lived in Bournemouth for a number of years I was in a perfect position to infiltrate the ranks of this army that every summer crams itself into a thin strip of sand between concrete and the ocean.

In this strange zone social boundaries shift and a tribalistic nature emerges, perhaps as a way of coping with the seething masses, perhaps because this is really what they all come for; reigniting the flame of a ten thousand year old human need to be part of a tribe. The evidence for this can be seen in the invaders behaviour: The staking out of land with windbreakers and surfboards, the stripping down to the loin cloth and fig leaf otherwise known as the swimsuit. The display of flesh publicly for many who wouldn't dream of doing so in any other situation. Meat is cooked over open flame, children are free to play with who they desire, the youth show off to each other while the elders sit quietly observing it all. We could be in a remote village in the amazon.

Most of the reasons that draw beach goers today are the same as those that brought the Victorians down in droves, the clean air, and if you’re lucky, the healing heat of the sun. But maybe there’s a more modern illness that also drives so many to the beach - in such a fragmented society that celebrates individualisation there are few other places one can go to experience this kind of levelling of the social hierarchy beyond the rigamarole of the London underground. After all, regardless of age, sex, wealth, ethnicity, shape or size, we must share this precious resource (there are no VIP or ticketed areas on the beach, yet).

It's through this close proximity to others as we play and relax stripped near bare, that we can experience rather than intellectualise the reality that we are all fundamentally the same. The fact that so many of us travel to the beach to enjoy such simple pleasures speaks to the idea that this, unlike some other invasions, is a necessary one, one that helps millions connect to their instinctual nature, and need to once again feel part of a tribe.