October 20, 2014
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Fans you don’t know are the best
This Side Up

This was too good to be true – a bevy of bikini-clad women cheering me, as if I had won a gold medal in beach volleyball. Bevy? Well, two, which is technically a brace of beauties. But they were on the beach and I had just performed a miraculous feat. Well, at least an extraordinary feat for me.

I was so stunned by the applause of total strangers that I didn’t have the swagger of those athletes who, after hitting a hole-in-one or acing an opponent on the tennis court, shrug it off as if I did it all the time. I literally stood there, as stunned as they were amazed by what just happened.

It all started several weeks ago, when my son Ted suggested we paddle board the Narrow River, following it to where it meets the ocean near the Dunes Club. With beautiful weather on Saturday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

“Let me check the tides and get back to you,” he said Friday.

That night, he invited us over to breakfast in the morning – he makes the best pancakes – and suggested we get on the river before 11 to catch the outgoing tide. His plan was to spend an hour or more surfing the ocean before hitching a ride up the river on the tide.

It sounded like a great plan.

Carol was too busy to go and she hasn’t taken up paddle boarding anyway and there are better things to do than watching paddle boarders.

Ted’s blueberry and blackberry pancakes were wonderful and, after some time with the granddaughters, we set off for Narrow River.

Both sides of the Route 1 Bridge were buzzing. The outgoing green waters were packed with paddleboards and kayaks. It could have been straight out of George Seurat’s painting of La Grande Jette but instead of picnickers gathered on blankets and shaded by parasols, cars bearing roof racks jammed the shore. People were offloading boards and brightly colored kayaks and carting gear. There were lots of coolers, plenty of life jackets, even one for the pit bull that was lifted into a kayak. The dog wasn’t expected to paddle and looked mournful wedged between the legs of his owner. A couple of fishermen out-posted near the bridge retreated in disgust.

We had barely paddled 100 feet before a powerboat following the flotilla came alongside.

“Hi, John, how are things?”

Should I be surprised to bump into someone while standing on a paddleboard? This is Rhode Island. It was a friend I hadn’t seen in five years. We caught up on news, gabbing as we drifted. Then they powered ahead to Block Island for the day.

Fred, one of Ted’s gang of windsurfers and paddleboarders, joined us. As we approached the ocean, the beaches and sandbars filled with groups thoroughly enjoying the water and the day. Some just floated; a few even jokingly suggested we give them a tow. Given their size, I doubt I would have made much progress.

Where the river met the ocean was the hub of activity. It offered some of the few waves on an otherwise glassy sea. A few swimmers were attempting to body surf. Some just bobbed in the water while those in kayaks or on paddleboards worked to catch waves.

Ted called the waves “ankle breakers.” They were babies compared to ones he introduced me to in Matunuck this spring.

I knelt on the board for the Matunuck waves and was rolled like a towel in a washing machine. I caught a couple of babies, feeling exhilaration and fear as the rocky beach closed at lightening speed. I felt completely out of control.

“Dad, they’re perfect to learn on,” Ted said of the babies.

“Now, paddle hard,” he directed as the water rose behind me.

I was standing and I could feel my knees wobbling. I paddled. The board lifted and then the nose fell. I went with it, flying head first into the water. Ted’s next bit of advice was to step back with my right leg when I could feel the wave pushing the board.

“Assume the surfer’s stance, with bent knees,” he said.

This time the board shot out from under me. I paddled back out and waited for another wave. It didn’t go anywhere. I was rolled.

I paddled over to Ted for more instruction as a 10-year old shot by us. It was the boy’s first time on a paddleboard.

“I’ll give you a little push to get you started,” Ted suggested.

I waited. The wave came. He pushed. I fell backward, off the board. Ted gave up on me and smoothly executed several runs of his own.

I bobbed about off shore until I finally decided on another go. It wasn’t much of a wave, but I managed to keep standing all the way to the beach. It was then that I discovered my fans. They cheered. I smiled.

“We knew you could do it,” one said.

Ted didn’t tell me it was going to be this good.


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