Now that I have the coach...

This Side Up


She had to show me. Even though she was still in her PJs, Sydney raced for the closet and her bicycle helmet.

“I can do turns,” she announced breathlessly, “Wanta see?”

There was no question I wanted to see her riding without training wheels and make turns. I followed her out to the garage where Ted had just finished hosing off the paddle boards and stowing them on the racks.

“Dad, Peppy’s going to watch me do turns,” she announced.

“Remember to keep the pedal up whichever way you’re turning,” he said.

She had fallen the day before when the pedal caught the pavement sending the bike into a skid.

“Oh, yes, I know,” in a tone that said she didn’t need to be reminded.

It was before 9 Saturday morning and the day was beautiful from the start.

Friday night, Ted and I exchanged phone calls. He reported that the forecast called for calm conditions, ideal for paddle boarding and for me to catch a few waves.

My last experience, in November, was akin to being in a washing machine. The waves were up that day and Ted knew where to find the best at Matunuck. The small lot was packed. Surfers bobbed like seals in the swells. A few paddle boarders hung close by. The waves were head high. Ted was excited; this was what he was looking for.

He didn’t waste time as if the waves might suddenly quit and he would be left with nothing. He went into gear, pulling the wet suit over his swimming trunks, fitting his booties and hood. He had painters’ blue latex gloves, which, he said, was just enough to keep your hands from freezing.

I followed, although not with his practiced speed. By the time I was suited up, he was walking his board through the white foam rushing up the rocky beach. Moments later he was standing and paddling into the line of breaking waves. It wasn’t long before he was carving across them.

I made it into the foam, knelt on the board and paddled out. I tried to catch a wave and was promptly dumped into the water. I tried it again and was swept closer to shore. With each dunking, my hood filled with water, my eyes stung and the painters’ gloves hung limply on my shriveled hands. I found myself in a vortex of incoming waves. No sooner was I kneeling on the board than I was knocked back in the water, with the board tugging at my ankle leash. In 15 minutes, I was done for. I retreated to shore to watch Ted. Calm, I guessed, was what I would need if I was ever to ride while standing.

Maybe this weekend was my time.

Ted texted at 4:40 a.m. Saturday. Would we meet at his house or the beach? Since the house is on the way, I suggested that. When I got there, his car was at the end of the drive and he had a cup of coffee for me. What a coach. He knew how to get my spirits up. We were off.

The sun was up by the time we reached Matunuck. The tide was out. We nearly had the place to ourselves. There were a lot of rocks between the water and us. Dave, a paddleboard fanatic Ted has come to know, was already parked and offloading. Soon all three of us wobbled across the rocky beach heading for the waves. They were barely two feet, which Ted deemed perfect for training. This time I was able to stand and paddle off shore. The waves were tricky, but I caught a few kneeling. I never could stand. By 7:50, we were headed back to Ted’s house.

Sydney was prepared to demonstrate her turns. She adjusted the pedal to get a good start and was soon into the lane and heading for the loop at the cul de sac. She rounded that easily, coming directly for Ted. He reminded her to swing wide for the turn and about the pedals. (It was the same voice he used an hour before, saying, “Stand, Dad…Try it…You can do it.”) Sydney turned 90 degrees, leaving the pavement and ended up on the lawn. On the next attempt, she was going too slow and fell over. Ted told her to pick up speed. On the third run, she mastered the turn, beaming a smile as she shot by. Ted praised her performance.

I knew what I had to do the next time I was out. Just stand. Forget the shaking legs, the wobbly board, getting tossed like a rag doll and remember that learning to ride a bike was far more difficult. Wasn’t it?


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