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Swami's Beach

It's early morning, and I'm on my way to photograph the surfers off Swami's Beach. I park my car on M street, and feel a certain buzz in the air. Usually I'm the first car to park here this early on a weekday. But today, I score the last empty space. There must be good surf. I head toward the Pacific Coast Highway, then turn and walk in front of a block-long, walled Hermitage complex to get to Swami's Park, a small spit of land located next to the Hermitage. I then descend the stairs leading to Swami's Beach, 150 feet below.

Both the Beach and the Park are named after Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, who in 1946, wrote his "Autobiography of a Yogi," while living here in Encinitas. This was his original Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage grounds and Meditation Gardens, built in 1937 on a bluff overlooking the ocean. The complex was designed using Vedic architecture, resulting in a seemingly 1930s Art Deco layout — minimalistically ornate yet visually pleasing. The grounds and the meditation gardens are meticulously maintained, and a feeling of planned serenity envelops you when you wander through them. A white wall surrounds the entire complex, complete with an ornate front entrance on the Pacific Coast Highway, that features a four-column colonnade capped with a large golden lotus flower. The rooms used by Paramahansa Yogananda in the Hermitage are now preserved as a shrine. Old timers still fondly remember him coming down to the beach to inspect the catch of the day, when the fishing boats came in.

It's foggy this morning, and the parking lot at Swami's Park is filled with cars, as it usually is. Since this space is so small, a community has grown here of early morning surfers who regularly meet to insert some wave action into their mornings before going to work. They change into and then out of their wet suits European style (shielded from view by a towel), some men pulling on suits and even ties, and women donning dresses, before driving off to work. There's a constant flow of traffic on the stairs going down to the beach. The buzz I felt has come from the surfing being unofficially declared "super," and I overhear someone exclaiming, "The surf was classic Swami's. If this isn't heaven, it must be the next zip code over."

I'll shoot the surfers unloading their boards, descending the stairs, warming up, and then finally surfing until the frenzy subsides and /or the light flattens out. Then I'll drive down to my next beach to shoot for my Liquid Abstracts series. While I sometimes walk that mile on the beach, today's low tide makes it mandatory for me to get there quickly.

Walking back beside the fog-shrouded Hermitage, I realize I get a feeling of tranquility each time I walk by the complex, and today is no different.

Text and Photos: © David Björkman — Encinitas, California