PHUKET: It's great to be at Surin beach today because we can see the sand. Come here in high season and chances are all you will see is umbrellas, from one end to the other.
Locals recall the days before Phuket's most famous beaches became commercial objects of desire, before umbrellas overwhelmed them, even before the first beach club. Even before the 2004 tsunami.
Back then, even in high season, locals could kick a football around the beach and, on the foreshore at some beaches, cook a barbecue.
Those days of blissful freedom have gone. The gold rush for shorefront beach clubs means they will never return.
The Indian Ocean tsunami washed the beaches clean and led people to say that Nature's outburst was both a warning and a chance to start all over again, to find a proper balance.
It didn't happen. It didn't happen because avarice, the worst kind of greed, the insatiable kind, has a powerful grip on Phuket.
Traditionally, village prosperity was shared and the need to maintain a balance with nature was well understood. Not any more.
Phuketwan recognises that part of the rush for control of Phuket's golden beaches springs from a genuine dilemma.
Tourists want to spend daylight hours on the beaches, sunning and swimming. As darkness falls, tourists want to watch the sunset. And after dark, tourists want to dine on the beaches.
What Phuketwan argues is that the beaches need to be under the control of an independent body whose sole purpose is to protect and preserve the beaches, not to make money from them.
Surin beach is a classic case where success for one beach club has spawned imitators. As we asked in an article last year, it's a matter of whether Surin needs and wants two beach clubs or 20.
The answer appears to be that even 20 may not be enough.
Provided they are legal, we have no problem with beach clubs springing up all along the shorefront at Surin.
What we are prepared to argue is that having a beach club or a restaurant at Surin should not entitle those stakeholders to any control over the beach itself.
The beach is for the public to enjoy, and as we've argued, the profits from any commercial activity on the sand should go to one single cause: beach preservation and protection.
At present, when tables and chairs cover the public sands in high season, where does the profit go?
The answer remains obvious, even in low season, because the ugly permanent intrusion of one restaurant onto Surin beach, the public beach, is there for all to see.
We don't have an argument with use of all of Phuket's public beaches after dark for dining and wining. But all signs of that kind of commercial activity should be removed during the day.
There is no hope now of containing loungers and umbrellas on Phuket beaches. That's the style adopted by Phuket's tourists, and fortunately Nature has a chance to recover during the low season.
Those visitors who prefer their beaches to be natural and umbrella-free will quit Phuket and go to Phang Nga or Krabi instead.
Surin is the first beach on Phuket to succumb to the beach club philosophy and if that works for tourists, so be it.
But it is time to draw a line in the sand, at the back of Phuket's beaches, to designate where the private zone ends and where the public area rightfully begins.
Last year's New Year Beach Party fiasco was an indication of what could happen - but with increasing frequency - this coming high season. It will happen, unless the rules are clear and enforced.
Only with the establishment of an independent Phuket Beach Authority will that line in the sand be absolutely clear.
And only with an independent Phuket Beach Authority will the future of Phuket's beaches be assured for all time.