by Anthony Kennedy Shriver (as told to Heather Schatz) | February 24, 2016
My Florida: Beach Boy
One Floridian’s tale of summers in Palm Beach bodysurfing with his famous family
I have so many great memories from my childhood in Florida. When I was growing up outside Washington, D.C., we used to go to Palm Beach to visit my Grandma Rose [Kennedy] every year, probably for two to four weeks. We had a house at 1095 North Ocean Boulevard. We went to St. Edward’s Catholic Church with her all the time. There’s a big stained-glass window named after my family there. Grandma Rose always sat right in the front pew, dressed to the T in slacks and a blouse with her beautiful red hat. She’d take me to look at the altar, carved with The Last Supper. After Mass, we’d go across the street to Green’s Pharmacy. I loved that parish and beautiful church. It was a great tradition. And now if I go to Palm Beach, I try to visit the church.
We’d eat lunch back at the house at 1:30, then we’d go down to Worth Avenue and look at everything. My mother, Eunice, would never buy anything, but my dad, Sargent, loved shopping there. He’d buy ties and clothes. Seeing all the fancy shops was huge for me. I never saw any of that in the suburbs of D.C. I never saw a street so beautiful.
But my most exhilarating Florida experiences are connected to the beauty of the state, the ocean, the wind and the waves. I feel a huge attachment to the ocean. It unifies my family, allowing us to come together and celebrate what I think is one of the best gifts Florida has—our sea. I love it from Palm Beach to Miami. The ocean is my favorite spot in the world.
I have incredible memories of our house in Palm Beach and of the surf behind the house. I remember falling asleep as a kid, listening to the waves crashing against the beach, which is one of the greatest sounds in the world. The windows were open, and I could hear the curtains blowing and the blinds banging against the window.
Everybody, my mother’s brothers and sisters, they all loved that house on North Ocean. It was a great place for us all to gather and celebrate family, play sports and enjoy the outdoors. We have great photos of them all at the Palm Beach house. Of course, there is a famous photo of Uncle Jack and Aunt Jackie and their kids in front of our house. We all have incredible memories from it.
One of my favorite memories involves my father. My dad was a great bodysurfer, and he taught my siblings and me how to do it, back when I was around 9 or 10 years old. From oldest to youngest, we are Robert Shriver III (Bobby), Maria, Timothy, Mark and then me. Bodysurfing was a competitive thing. We would do it for hours behind the house and loved it, especially when the waves got big. We would jump in as a family before lunch, and everybody would be down there having a good time, even the dogs.
My mom wasn’t a big bodysurfer, but she loved to swim and would come in with us in her beautiful flowered cap. My sister wasn’t a big bodysurfer either, but she loves the sea and would always jump in with us. Even my grandmother would come into the ocean with us to swim before she was older. Then, when I was in my early teens, she started only going in the pool. When I was out in the waves with just my dad and brothers, it was all about the competition. You could call any one of my siblings today and ask them about it, and they would all have a memory of that.
We didn’t use any boards or wear any wetsuits. We just wore our bathing suits and went for it, using our bodies. There is a technique behind it. It’s in the way you put your arms out and back, and how long you put your head down. And when you get up on the beach, if you can get up that far, there is a lot of cheating going on. You crawl and put your arms down or you pull yourself to the beach to beat the guy next to you. It was always hilarious with the cheating. Everybody accused everybody else of cheating constantly. But, for the record, Anthony Shriver was the best. I beat everybody. However, everybody else would say that I was the biggest cheater, of course.
When I bodysurf now in Miami, it makes me feel like a kid again. I still jump into the ocean whenever I can and will continue to do so for as long as God gives me the ability to get in and out of it. It’s how I connect spiritually. I’m calm and enjoying the salt and the air. And I just breathe.
I live on the Intracoastal in Miami, so I’m in the water almost every day with my 6-year-old, Joey. We try to get to the open ocean a couple of times a week, even if it’s just to jump in for half an hour before dinner. And we go out on our Jet Ski or boat pretty much every weekend. The ocean is a great place for us to connect and to keep that connection to my father. Hopefully Joey will love the sea as he gets older. It’s important for a family to come together around nature.
My older kids love the ocean as well. Teddy, my oldest, is 27 and went to school in Los Angeles, where he’s surfed six to 15-foot waves. My daughters, Eunice, 22, Francesca, 21, and Carolina, 14, are all great bodysurfers. Carolina still goes out with me a lot.
Unfortunately, I can’t take my kids bodysurfing in the same spot I used to go. The house in Palm Beach was sold. But that’s okay. It reminds me that you never know in life how things will turn, so you have to be open and gracious and treat others well. I have been able to take my children to other spots on the same shoreline, behind the Breakers and the Palm Beach Country Club.
We also go to a couple of different spots in Miami Beach, including South of Fifth, where the waves are usually bigger, if Teddy wants to get on a surfboard. I’ll play with Joey so he can get a taste of bigger waves on the board. And sometimes the girls and my wife, Alina, who also bodysurfs, will come along, too. Everybody does it, using the same techniques my dad taught me (although Alina says she was already an expert before she met me).
On those days, I can just picture my dad being there with me, body surfing by my side with all of my children. It’s an uplifting, heartfelt, very emotional thing for me.