Sand, shade, and a seat for English Bay beach bums

“Everywhere we go in life, we want to sit down. We want to be in a chair. That’s why we have an ass.” – Jerry Seinfeld

If that’s funny because it’s true, the Vancouver Beach Company has your ass covered. They partnered with the Parks Board for a two-year pilot project that could unseat Vancouver’s age-old beach-going tradition of stretching out a towel on the sand up against a log. Instead, this summer they’ve offered chairs and umbrellas for rent on English Bay Beach.

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My mom is an avid Vancouver beach-goer since 1973, and has never missed a summer on the sand on Third Beach in Stanley Park. She’s perfectly okay with the arrival of the chairs and umbrellas and hopes the operation expands to Third. “Whenever I went to Europe and used the beach chairs and umbrellas system they have there, I always thought it would work well here. It’s civilized!”

Indeed, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit a resort town pretty much anywhere else in the world, be it Italy, France, the Caribbean, or Mexico, beach chairs and umbrellas are pretty much the expected norm. Only those out of luck are planting bums in sand. According to some, Vancouver has finally caught up.

“A lot of locals have said ‘it’s about time,’” says Marko Kosoric, who was running the rental stand when I stopped by. “The Parks Board was looking for a way to provide shade on the beaches, so it was a perfect fit with our company.”

$15 will get you a blue canvas-and-wood recliner chair and a big, blue and white striped umbrella for three hours. Marko or one of his co-workers will personally follow you to your choice spot on the beach and pound the umbrella into place.

If you rent a chair or an umbrella, you also get an exclusive beach-delivery meal option, as the rental company has also partnered with nearby Milestones. They’re even working on a liquor license for next summer, with a cooler that would attach to the base of the umbrella stand. Sounds pretty heavenly, eh?

Not everyone is a fan. Steino Reinhart, who has been worshipping the sun on English Bay Beach since the late 1960s and has the deep, leathery brown tan to prove it, didn’t hold back with his opinion.

“The umbrellas block my view! We don’t need them on this beach. Vancouver has always been about the natural beach experience, raw nature, sand and driftwood, not this European-style umbrella nonsense.” In fact, not a lot of manicured English Bay Beach is natural: the logs have been cut to size and carefully arranged in neat rows, and that dusty sand on the giant swath of upper beach is imported.

Now that we’re into the dog days of August, the Vancouver Beach Company is assessing their first year in the beach bum business. According to Marko, it’s been a great summer. Umbrellas are the most popular for the health-conscious who want to enjoy the beach and still have direct contact with the sand, but want to avoid direct contact with the sun.

Customers have so far been a 50/50 split of locals and tourists. They’ve come from as far away as Australia, Mexico, and England, and some have been daily repeat customers for their entire stay.

“During hot stretches, we can sell out of all 40 umbrellas. It’s neat to see them spread out all over the beach,” says Marko. “Based on this summer, we’ll for sure be back, with a possible expansion to other beaches around the city.”  The chairs and umbrellas are available every day from 11am to sunset.

As one of those towel-on-the-sand beach-goers, I was skeptical when I sank into one of the rental chairs on English Bay Beach. I have to admit that my immediate reaction was an audible sigh of relaxation, which Marko noted with a knowing smile. Now beer me!

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