Maria Sestito

Maria Sestito is the public safety reporter for the Napa Valley Register.

I’ve been craving water. Salty water.

Ever since moving to California, spending time in the ocean has been a challenge. Whether you’re from California or have never been to California, this declaration of mine is probably in opposition to everything you know the Golden State to be.

But this side of the Pacific is not welcoming. The worst part is how cold it is.

If you’ve never been in the water during a summer on the East Coast, maybe you don’t know how warm the Atlantic gets. If you go south enough, like where my dad lives in Florida, it truly is like bathwater.

Now, although I’m from New Jersey, I moved here from coastal North Carolina, where I lived just 10 or so minutes from usually friendly and peaceful beach town.

After three years there, most of my closet consisted of shorts and tank tops and I finally started to wear flip-flops. There was sunshine, thunderstorms, humidity and a beautifully warm ocean.

My first summer in California, I went to Muir Beach and dipped my toes in the water. The beach was windy and the sun was behind some clouds. BRRRRR. I could hardly handle standing on the beach, let alone subjecting my toesies to its icy waters.

The next year I tried Santa Cruz. There was so much traffic that I figured it must be a gem of a vacation spot. But again, the water was too cold to go into without a wetsuit or the fortitude of a three-year-old.

Next up was Malibu. Still too cold for bare bodies, but I was prepared with a wetsuit and an inflatable whale my former boyfriend and I picked up from the grocery store and had named Wanda. By the time Wanda was ready to swim, a park ranger had pulled over and told us that we weren’t allowed to have inflatables in Malibu waters.

(But I’ve seen Miley do it! On TV. Allegedly in Malibu.)

Finally, this year, I made it to San Diego – the place where my desire to live in California all began. The place where I decided that, someday and somehow, I would move to California.

The beach was still windy, but I made do by covering my head with a t-shirt while I sunbaked. It wasn’t humid it enough to really build up a sweat so hot that you have to jump into the ocean for relief, but it was still warm enough to feel like I was covered in a blanket of sunshine.

After about an hour of warming up, I headed for the waves. Yes, the water was still cold. Cold enough to make my squeal like a child. There was no way I was going to get out, though. I closed my eyes for a moment, told myself to just do it and, with high knees, ran in.

This was the California I’d been looking for.

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