Fit in my 40s: hit the beach to swim? Forget that! Swap the noodles for shuttlecocks

I should preface this by saying that the best, most obvious exercise to do on a beach holiday is to swim in the sea. It has all the muscular wonders of a pool, with the additional benefit of usually not being warm enough. Swimming uses every major muscle group in your body, but sea-swimming takes it up a notch by engaging your brain: the risk, the infinity, the connection with nature. It’s a beautiful thing, which my kids point-blank refuse to do.

But it turns out they’ve got really good at badminton. The first I heard of it was when the oldest came back from school boasting that they’d had to change the winner-stays-on rule because he was just too good. Hoping to parlay this into a holiday activity, I bought a dirt-cheap beach badminton set.

Next, I chose my beach – what am I talking about, “chose”? I went to Ramsgate in Kent like I always do. If you’re a family of four, you will separate easily into mixed doubles, and if you’re a family of five, you have to guarantee that one of you is sulking, which is also easy.

You don’t, presumably, need the principles of badminton explained to you, only what difference a beach makes. It turns out, a lot – not to the rules, but to the physics.

Sand is a noted cause of friction – you won’t even realise how much until you try to wheel a pushchair over it. You’re supposed to adjust the weight of your shuttlecock to the humidity and the height above sea level. Obviously I didn’t know that, because why would I? Ours was too light, susceptible to the tiniest gust of sea air, pretty much unpredictable by humans.

Time and again, the young were simply better at it. Their rackets were newer; they were nippier on the sand; their turning circle was smaller; and their stopping distance shorter. Only in writing do I realise why their shuttlecock-anticipation was better: it must be their superior eyesight. Shuttlecocks are quite hard to see in broad sunlight.

This was annoying as between you and me, I’m way fitter than they are. Maybe I’ve just built up too many preconceptions about how long it will take me to get from A to B, having had a longer life; I missed a lot of shots just not getting to them fast enough. This was aside from the shots I missed having my racket in the wrong place. It makes for pretty good exercise, though.

Choose between the best of one or the best of three games – there are some uptight rules about how long the break between games is supposed to be and what you’re allowed to do in it (90 seconds, and not very much, not even talk), but I’d have felt silly enforcing that on an actual beach. Now all you have to do is lift six points off your opponents (each game is played to 11 points).

We tried having one kid on each team, but that messed with my maternal algorithm – I always end up letting them win – so, emotionally, it’s easier for me if they’re on the same side. Plus, I didn’t have to let them win. They were just better.

What I learned
It’s against the rules to wear shoes; you have to be barefoot or wearing sand stockings, which are a real thing.