“Well, now you have something to write about, Dad.”
I didn’t think of it in those terms, but my son Ted was absolutely right. I had a Father’s Day gift, and something to boast about as well.
At that moment, however, my mind was on the next wave. I was wondering if my jittery knees would still be holding me upright once the white foam rushed by before melting onto the rocky Matunuck shore.
It was 7:45 a.m. Sunday and we had been paddling in the crystal blue waters for more than an hour. The day was beautiful. Terns zigged and zagged over the shallow waves, diving to catch baitfish from the feeding stripers below. A half-mile offshore was a growing armada of fishing boats and an offshore wind had stiffened since we arrived. It made getting out to the breaking waves easy. Stand up on your board and you started sailing.
But, for that instant, my focus was on not falling. The oncoming foam was followed by another wave that I figured would break at where I’d be in just about 15 seconds. I dug in and put my back into paddling. I was going to beat it. I felt the acceleration, and the board rise, as the wave rolled under me before cresting and racing to shore. I started scanning the horizon, looking for something to carry me in and start the process all over again.
The kids gave me this SUP [stand-up paddle board] for my 71st birthday. It’s something I never would have bought for myself. I was quite content borrowing a board from one of Ted’s friends and tagging along to see what the sport is all about. My sorties, apart from standing up in calm waters, were limited to kneeling and catching the occasional wave that sent me hurtling toward shore and, most usually, a thrashing, as if I was inside a giant water tumbler. The board would go flying. What’s up seemed to be down and visa versa. Water filled my ears and nose and, if I wasn’t careful, a mouthful of fresh brine was part of it, too. Fortunately, the boards have leashes, so you never have to swim too far.
Ted loves this – not the falling off – but the thrill of catching a big wave, sculpting the inner wall, shooting back over the crest and then riding it toward shore. There weren’t any waves like that Sunday. By comparison to other outings, they were tame, but, as I figured, they couldn’t be better for me.
Ted called earlier in the week suggesting that we do a Father’s Day breakfast, or an afternoon cookout, if I preferred. When he said breakfast, I thought he might also be hinting to a pre-breakfast run on the waves? He was. I agreed to meet him at his place at 6 and, as promised, he had a thermos mug of coffee and a fat cookie. I was ready.
One paddle boarder was already riding waves when we pulled into the sandy parking lot. Four others were suiting up. They pulled on wet suits and booties and then walked out onto the rocky beach before reaching water deep enough to ride. Ted knew them all. There were backslaps, hugs and introductions. This is a fraternity.
“This is my dad.”
Some hugged me, too. I had the comforting feeling nobody was going to let me get into too much trouble out there.
I tried my wobbly stand-up paddle and quickly went for a dip. I then resorted to kneeling. That got me out to the waves.
As I said, the waves were petite compared to other outings, but still forceful enough to send you hurtling.
“Try standing up,” I could hear Ted coaxing as I went flying.
I tried, and the board shot out from under me. After others shot by me and Ted made a couple of runs, he offered more suggestions. This time, in an effort to crouch, the nose of the board dug into the water and launched me.
I got to stand for about three seconds on another run and, remarkably, I was emboldened. Maybe I could do this.
“Dad! Paddle, paddle,” Ted was shouting.
I could see the wave over my shoulder. Still kneeling, I paddled as rapidly as possible. I felt the wave catch the back of the board. As it accelerated, I stood. The water was boiling white under the board. Ted’s friends were whooping and hollering. I paddled some more and caught a secondary burst. I was going faster and faster. I couldn’t fall now. It was too perfect. Then suddenly the wave was spent and I started paddling back out.
“How did it feel … isn’t it great?” Ted asked when I reached him.
I had to agree it was exhilarating.
What’s better on Father’s Day than to be coached by one’s son and cheered on by his friends?