A moment please to pay homage to the latest must-have but perhaps misunderstood accessory on our beaches this summer – the cabana!
These four-legged tents have been taking up valuable sand space all around the country during the holidays, saving thousands of Australians from sunburn (I single out Australians because tourists still seem to have no problem lying in the scorching sun working on their tan).
I draw attention to the cabana because I was initially a sceptic – not because I didn’t believe in the service it provided, but because I initially felt it was an eyesore which took up too much space and got in everyone’s way.
At the start of this summer I came into possession of a cabana. It was left at our accommodation by the previous inhabitants.
“No bloody way will I be taking that to the beach,” I told myself, fearful of the retribution I would receive from fellow beach-users.
Imagine my surprise when I woke the next day, and saw multi-coloured cabanas dotted all along the waterfront. After much discussion and horse trading, I was appointed by the rest of my family to be the advance party, tasked with heading to the sand, staking out our patch – and then constructing the cabana.
During my life I have spoken to packed conference rooms and presented live radio and television, undergone invasive surgery and faced express fast bowling with just a plank of wood in my hands. None of this seemed adequate preparation for the task I was about to undertake.
Down to the sand I headed, hiding the cabana bag under a strategically placed beach towel. My eyes darted nervously at all that surrounded me. I was desperately looking for two things – a clear space to construct my monstrosity, and some friendly faces who might not judge me for the beach-going crime I was about to commit.
I found a space. Having never constructed a beach cabana before, I had no idea if this patch of sand would be big enough. Would I be encroaching on someone else’s space? Would my canary yellow (yes, able to be seen from the space station) beach tent end up shading someone else who did not want to be sheltered from the sun?
I could feel myself sweating, and it wasn’t because of the sun. I also sensed family members were watching from a safe distance, possibly hiding behind bushes, pretending to be scraping sand from their flip flops, or buying unnecessary coffees. I was on my own.
Fortunately I had taken the opportunity to watch a video before I headed to the beach titled “how to put up your beautiful beach cabana”. I knew the whole beach would be watching me, tut-tutting and shaking their heads. Last thing I needed was to put up the whole contraption upside down.
Anyone who has been down this path before, or who has witnessed others doing it, will know it involves a lot of loud steel-on-steel banging. It makes enough noise to alert everyone on the beach that here’s a selfish bloke putting up a mini-mansion on the sand.
It also makes enough noise to possibly attract sharks (remember that scene in Jaws where our hero was making a din on a steel cable in the hope of attracting a bloodthirsty killer? That’s what putting up a cabana sounds like.)
Anyway my cabana went up without a hitch. I tried to ooze confidence, strutting about like a man who has done this every day of his life. I knew people were watching and judging, but I was past the point of return.
The only problem was it was on a ridiculous angle. Everyone else’s was facing out to the ocean, so people could sit in the shade and watch their loved ones swimming. Mine was sort of facing sideways, so people could sit and watch the part of the beach where no-one was swimming.
After what seemed an eternity, but in reality was only long enough to determine if anyone was going to remonstrate with me, or try tearing my canary yellow cabana down, the rest of my family joined me.
“Why is it facing this way?” they asked, in voices obviously loud enough for everyone on the beach to hear.
I had no answer. By this stage I was like the nervous swimmer who had finally plucked up the courage to jump off the 10-metre diving board and was now paddling to the pool edge, all my body parts thankfully still in place.
We enjoyed that day under the cabana. And every other day during the break, I went down by myself to set up, my brave family still not willing to run the risk of being heckled on the beach. And we all enjoyed those days, too.
And by the end of our holiday, I had proudly become the annoying guy on the beach who stepped in to help others who hadn’t taken the opportunity to watch a cabana-constructing video before heading to the sand for the first time.
Like caravan owners and electric car drivers, there’s a certain bond that exists between us cabana folk. Our goal to take over every Australian beach is underway.