The beach is more than just a place, it's a part of who we are - for better or worse. Kim Knight remembers.

Tan lines, tog lines, summer stories writ on skin.

New Zealanders reveal themselves at the beach.

There is sand in our statistics and sand in our mythologies.

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Maui, raised in the ocean, was cast ashore as a man.

Nobody here can ever be more than 130km from the sea. Childhood tastes of salt and pineapple Frujus.

Do you ever forget your first beach?

The Pancake Tearooms in Punakaiki did not serve pancakes.

We made coffee from a tin, triangular ham sandwiches from white bread and double-scoop ice creams from four-litre cardboard boxes stamped "hokey pokey" and "French vanilla".

I was 14. I named my customers for their favourite flavours. He was Maple Walnut. We walked all the way to the river end, then we walked all the way to the safe swimming end. On the West Coast, they squeeze the last drop out of the sun. Shortly before it pitches below the horizon, it catches the sea on fire. I should have kissed him. The next day his family drove to another camping ground by another beach.

Pack that summer in a box and take it to the beach. Tupperware containers of fruitcake and cars with the windows rolled down. New Zealand's national colour is a very particular shade of bright, light, 1970s blue that paints baches photogenic and caravans melancholic.

When you close your eyes, is it one beach or many?

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A 50kg human contains 40 teaspoons of salt. Babies are three-quarters water. We were born to gather at that margin between land and sea. Feel the sun. Sand between your toes. The national narrative depends on beachy-keen cliches.

Ministry for the Environment: Of the 92 indigenous seabird species and subspecies that breed in New Zealand, 32 are classified as threatened with extinction, 51 at risk of extinction.

Niwa: The risks from coastal hazards will rise substantially as sea level continues to rise and waves and storm surge increase.

Lorde: She thinks you love the beach, you're such a damn liar.

New Zealand has the ninth-largest coastline in the world. Our collective consciousness wears sunglasses. In 1937, there were 75 organised picnic parties at Titirangi Beach. For the past 12 years, a scene from Bruce Mason's End of the Golden Weather has been performed on Christmas Day at Takapuna Beach. Our collective consciousness smells like wet towels and over-heated skin.

I was in my mid-20s. We were sinking, neck-deep in the waves. White lines criss-crossed his torso. "He never told you?" she said.

I shook my head.

"He broke a tennis racquet on him. He's a good boy never telling you."

The shock of water in the face. Her words tearing towards the high tideline, trickling into the gaps between the sand. New Zealanders reveal themselves at the beach.