At pre-dawn here in the Outer Banks, the only vehicles you see on the roads are the delivery trucks and the folks who make the donuts. Look a little closer, and you may see shadowy figures climbing the stairs over the dunes at the beach accesses. Toting chairs and cameras these shadows are those of the dedicated souls who start their day with the start of light — sunlight, that is.
What motivates these early risers to climb out from under the covers and journey in darkness to witness daybreak? My investigation begins at Second Street in Kill Devil Hills.
To the West, the moon and stars still hang over the Wright Brothers National Monument. To the East, the first sliver of light begins to appear.
As I approach the group on the beach, I notice the variation of age and gender. Standing, sitting, or watching with surf board under an arm, this eclectic group hang together to watch the dawn.
Charlie Parker, a Second Street sun gazer for six years, said, “No two days are every the same. It is almost a spiritual feeling to witness the beginning of a new day.”
I asked the youngest member, who is 13, why he gave up sleep to be here at this time. He told me his neighbor invited him one morning, and he was hooked. The teen talked about the amazing colors before the sun appears, unlike anything he had ever seen. As we talked, dolphins broke the ocean surface, jumping and fishing between the sand bars. We both grinned at each other, no words were necessary.
Venturing on down the beach to South Nag’s Head, another group gathers. They welcome the warmth of dawn with sun salutations, sleek yoga moves, and stretches. As I watched, I recalled my doctor telling me the best way to keep joints healthy and working properly was stretching every day. These sun catchers were putting that advice to practice every week day at 6:15 a.m. for 40 minutes.
“Join us!” Patty, the group leader shouted out. I promised to return with my beach towel one day and do just that.
The last stop on my week long pre-dawn beach exploration was Jeanette’s Pier. One of the best Outer Banks surfing spots, I expected to encounter a different crowd here, and I was right.
The surfers gathered on the walkway eyed the ocean and commented on the waves and breaks in the pre-dawn light.
As the first streak painted orange and pink stripes across the horizon, they were gone. Lean bodies running to the shore, and heading into the Atlantic to catch the early waves.
Is there some uplifting, energizing power that comes from the vortex of the shore and the sea at dawn? I will let you decide, but will warn you; sunrises can capture your senses, reach your soul and become addictive here in the Outer Banks.