Morocco: Who's at da beach?

Artwork of the umbrella boys working out on the job while simultaneously showing off their chiseled bodies. Artwork by Josie Gallagher.
Artwork of the umbrella boys working out on the job while simultaneously showing off their chiseled bodies. Artwork by Josie Gallagher.

Umbrellagardiens of Morocco put on a show

By Adam Hausman

The lounge chair/umbrellagardiens. That's who. I'm a devoted people watcher; these guys are "the show." When "on point," they position at the waist-high wall that separates sand and boardwalk.

They use a severe and sweeping hand gesture (that says, "Look-at-this-beautiful-set-up-here-for-you") to attack the peripheral vision and capture the attention of potential beachgoers strolling past. They'll also verbalize, peppering the pedestrians with the standard, "Bonjour; Ola; Hello; Two people? Very nice; good price."

But they're easygoing - not too obtrusive or harassing. On the tout-scale, they register very mellow. Once they've fished a customer out of the passing stream, negotiations are cleverly-handled as an afterthought, after customers have been shown to chairs, after beach bags and coolers have been logically placed, after cushions have been plumped and

Boardwalk vendor in Morocco. Artwork by Josie Gallagher.
Boardwalk vendor in Morocco. Artwork by Josie Gallagher.

after umbrellas have been angled to their shadiest degree.

50 dirhams (about $5) is the often-quoted starting price. As to what price is possible after haggling, I'm not sure, for my highly-developed voyeur skills are left out of the more hushed-tone proceedings.

What does it take to be a chairgardien?

Requisite for a lounge chairgardien is a suntanned and fit body, both of which can be nurtured on-the-job. He doesn't go ten minutes without obsessively dropping to the sand for a set of push-ups or crunches. Occasionally, a serious bodybuilder friend to “da boys” hangs out and shows them new exercises that I think could all be classified as isometrics. The friend is very short but almost as wide as he is tall.

He wears his formal djellaba onto the sand, for the express purpose of showy disrobing demonstrations - life the unsheathing of a knife. I won’t lie, it’s a riveting performance. He was the first to show them a set of handstand push-ups. (Nobody else has been successful yet.)

I saw him give an entire clinic of drills utilizing the lifeguard stand: each movement building upon the last, climaxing in quasi-levitation. When the boys intermingle, talk and attention always centers on developing bodies. This I can gather from a distance: the flexing, the assessing, the feats of strength, and the playful/testing strikes to striated abdomens.

Gardien boys take on subcontractors - littler boys. When "the boys" want to socialize, flirt, exercise, smoke hashish, or generally leave their posts, they employ very young kids to assume the position at the boardwalk edge and drum up business.

They are much crasser and less polished (less interested, less at stake) with the passersby than a knowledgeable gardien, wrongly employing the aggression of a shop owner within the medina walls. If they collect money, they immediately run the profits over to the senior executive. If he is between sets, he will shell out a commission. The young ones do push-ups too, but need years to beef up their skinny frames.

Taking on the surfer persona

These cabana boys have assumed the style of surfers. On bigger swells, there is a wave right in front of their domain. Smaller swells break a kilometer down the beach, at the shallowest point of this crescent bay, where there is a more strategic and shifting sandbar.

But these are not surfers. I can tell. The majority of them are way too beefy for surfers = loss of flexibility, and they are swollen up in all the wrong places - all biceps and pectorals. No matter, they have mastered the swagger of surfers - no one's judging.

They all wear surf baggies pulled low, exposing name-brand underwear; one pair read, "Gavin Klein"(definitely not a surfer trait - at least not of the soul surfer). The majority sport shoulder length sun-bleached hair, kinked and natty.

They don't wear shirts: their tanned and toned torsos shrug off the sun like body armor. The shakas they throw at each other are more versatile than a Westerner's use of "dude." The boys resemble each other so closely they could almost be interchangeable - whittled aesthetically from the elements.

Flirting their way through the job

Gardiens are relentlessly flirtatious. Surrounded by sunbathing European hotties in bikinis, who could blame them? I'm sure that's a big component for their dedication to fitness, hell, I'm a believer in the notion that that is why anybodydoes anything.

Always quick to help reposition a lounge chair, shake sand out of a towel, tweak the sunshade, or run over a cold drink to a lounger in their station, but watch them l - i - n - g- e - r at a station that includes scandalous beachwear.

I watched one dance with the miniature poodle of an attractive Dutch (?) mom and daughter team today. He waited till the daughter had her beach cover-up off, then jogged over (all the while flexing), lifted the dog's front paws off the ground and spun like a whirling dervish. I think he charmed all three of them. I give way too much thought to how often these guys are pulling foreign chicks. I haven't seen evidence of it (and I've looked - a lot), but I'm sure they score.

I have a real soft spot for these guys. They're always smiling and joking around. They work at the beach! The parking lot gardiens are extortionists that provide an illusory service, protecting you (your car) from themselves - like the mafia. The cabana boys charge for a legitimate product: a soft seat for your fat ass and shade from the sun. If I ever come back to this earth as an employable wage-earning Essaouira local, somebody please direct me through the parking lot and out to the beach.

Adam HausmanAdam Hausman is an international school teacher.