The Insider’s Guide to Healthy Hawaii: Finding Peace Through Beachcombing

Medically reviewed in March 2022

Waimea resident Deacon Ritterbush finds peace and comfort in beachcombing to help heal her mind and body.

Beachcombing helped Ritterbush deal with the loss of her mother. She’d walk along Chesapeake Bay, where she lived at the time, searching for treasures in the sand. It took her mind off her grief. “Nature heals and grounds us,” she said. “You get over grief over time and beachcombing helped me buy time.”

Ritterbush faced another setback two years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. Although she couldn’t be out in the sun during her six-month chemotherapy treatment, she’d close her eyes to meditate and imagine she was at the beach. Then she’d “table comb” by laying out her beachcombing treasures on a table. She’d receive “get well” beachcombing treasures in the mail from people in her worldwide beachcombing network. “It lifted my mood,” she said. “It was very healing for me in my walk through cancer.” 

Beachcombing is a hobby that involves searching beaches for shells, sea glass, rocks and other collectables that wash ashore. It’s like walking on history. On the east coast, she finds Victorian pottery shards from Europe and old sunken merchant ships. In Hawaii, she finds pieces of Asian pottery from the plantation days and sea glass from old sake and nori bottles.

But more important than collecting objects, beachcombing gives Ritterbush a sense of purpose and is good for her overall well-being. “The act of looking for something—that total absorption—gives your brain a rest from grief, anxiety and stress,” she said. “It takes you away from everything except the present. Looking for beautiful shells or sea glass helps me focus. I get a sense of perspective. I come home more relaxed and happier. It’s a time out from the chaos of life.”

Known as Dr. Beachcomb, Ritterbush has written books about beachcombing. More than 4,000 people worldwide who share the same hobby are connected to her Facebook page. And she’s organized the International Beachcombing Conference, which takes place in a different location yearly.

“People in cities are removed from our original mother—nature,” she said. “Beachcombing is like a carrot that pulls them outside to be with the ions, wind and sounds of the waves and birds. It’s soothing and touches the elemental side of us. The beach is where I feel closest to the divine.”

Ritterbush has lived near the ocean most of her life and has been beachcombing for more than 60 years. Her favorite beachcombing spot in Hawaii is at Honolii Beach Park in Hilo and Sand Island Access Beach Park in Honolulu. 

During a beachcombing outing at Long Beach Island, Florida, Ritterbush said, “Let’s face it, life is hard. We get so preoccupied with issues and problems that we take nature’s beauty for granted. And that’s too bad because nature is the great healer.”

This content originally appeared on Island Scene.

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