All of my life, the water has played a big part in who I am. When I was young, and went to summer camp, swimming lessons were my absolute favorite activity. When I was about ten years old, my family got an above ground pool, and I would spend as much time in it as my parents would allow.
By the time that I was fourteen or fifteen, my grandfather began bringing my sisters, my cousins, and me to a ranch in up-state New York, and while everyone else was getting drawn into horseback riding, I was down at the lake taking waterskiing lessons. We were there for five days, and for five days I attempted to waterski. I would tuck into position, and try to keep myself righted while the boat would pull the rope taut, I would give the thumbs up, and try to maintain the proper balance, and crash down hard on my face. There were several times when it hurt, when I swallowed enough water that I choked on it, but I really wanted to do it.
The last run of the week, I got up. The next year, I got up on the first try, and was skiing around the small lake, waving at my family on the beach, and my uncle and sister in the boat, just showing off. I love waterskiing, even to this day, but it’s not an easy hobby to keep up on. The problem is that you need other people to participate, so I don’t do it often. I don’t think I’ve waterskied in more than five years.
So fast forward to about three years ago. I was twenty-nine years old, and Sarah—my wife who was at the time my fiancé— and I had just graduated college. We had decided that while we were looking for jobs, that we would enjoy our summer. My sister, brother-in-law, and I decided to take a surfing lesson in Rhode Island, with a Groupon that my sister had found. Sarah went with us, but she doesn’t mind wading into the ocean, but doesn’t want to go out into shark depths.
We took the lesson, which consisted of about fifteen minutes of basic form lessons, followed by heading into the water to try it—our instructor did not help in any way after we entered the water, he was clearly in the position for the ability to surf on his own. The three of us paddled out, and fought to stay balanced laying flat on the boards. Once I was out far enough that I was with the rest of the surfers, I tried sitting up on my board. I won’t lie, I had a hard time maintaining balance while sitting on the board. I was gasping for air, my body exhausted already from paddling against the ocean’s current, but it was amazing. Sitting out on the water, looking back at the beach which looked much further than I would have imagined.
After a couple of minutes, a wave came that looked as if it would be a good one to try to ride, and I decided to give it a try. I aimed back at the beach, and started paddling back, and as the wave came behind me I started to flex all the muscles needed to pop my body up into the proper position, however I didn’t managed to get my feet underneath me correctly, and the board and I went flying in opposite directions. Luckily for me, the board was tethered to my leg—unluckily it was between me and the next big wave, and it came at me vertically. I have never been punched in the face—by an adult—but I have to imagine that it would have been no worse than this. The surfboard cracked my in the jaw, with such intensity that I saw black for a moment. I grabbed at the board in a frantic hug, and floated back to where I could stand.
As I sat in the shallow water for a moment, regaining my orientation, my sister and brother-in-law came running up. They asked if I was ok, because I didn’t look it, although they hadn’t seen what had happened. They began letting me know that if I wanted to sit it the rest of the time out, that they wouldn’t care. I told them I just needed a moment to get settled, and that I wanted to go back.
We continued for the rest of the time we were allowed, and I improved by not allowing the board to smack me in the face again, but never managed to get up. Every time I was out of breath, struggling to sit on the board, looking back at the beach, I felt like I was in heaven. I can only explain it as, it felt as if I were removed from the chaos that was on the land, and even though there was plenty of chaos beneath and around me in the water, it felt different.
After the lesson was over, we all returned our boards and our wetsuits and headed to a restaurant for lunch. Paddling and flailing for dear life certainly worked up an appetite. On the ride home, I told Sarah about how much I loved it, how much I wanted to continue until I could really do it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with it, the rental was pricier than I could afford having been unemployed that summer, and so I told myself that I would get into better shape, so that I could do it the next summer. I didn’t.
At some point in the last couple of months, as I was finishing up my Master’s Degree, and I was aware that I was going to want something to take school’s place, I started thinking about surfing again. I’ve begun getting my body into a better condition to be able to execute the different maneuvers necessary, and plan on doing so until summer—getting in better shape has had the added benefit of helping to fight the unemployed blues, as well as allowing me to keep up with my ten-month-old son, Logan.
Today, Sarah and I had nothing specific to do, so we decided that we would go for a drive. She asked what direction I wanted to head in, and I said “I don’t know how about south.” That is how we typically determine our weekend drives. Without really saying much, Sarah decided that south meant Point Judith in Rhode Island, it’s only a couple miles south of Narragansett where I had taken the surfing lesson. As we approached she mentioned that perhaps we would see some surfers, but I was skeptical because it was a pretty cold and windy day, and it is February. Of course, I was wrong.
We sat in the parking lot at Point Judith—which comes right up to a cliff overlooking the water— for more than an hour, watching as a dozen surfers sat on their boards in waves that were easily three times as large as the ones I had tried to surf three years ago. We watched—Logan sitting on her lap— as they took turns, trying to mount these epic waves. The only sound was the hoarse voice of the wind blowing by the car as we looked out. What hypnotized me, was the streaks of foam that seemed to marbleize the waves, the color of the water changing from the dark bluish green that was impossible to see through, into the lighter aqua color that looked like sea glass as the water rose up in swells, and the light fell differently upon it.
I knew that what I had experienced three years ago, the view from the water looking back, was nothing compared to what these surfers were witnessing, and that on the occasions that they managed to get up on top of those massive waves that they were feeling something that I wanted to feel.
For the next several months, as I get ready for summer, as I get ready to try surfing again, I will think about those waves. I’ll think about them on days when I don’t want to exercise, and I will make myself. I probably won’t be able to handle waves like those any time soon, but I’m done putting off trying.