The beach philosopher

This Side Up


Ted had me back on the SUP this Sunday (That’s “stand up paddleboard,” for those who haven’t kept track of the latest rage in water sports).

The board he introduced me to provided a lot of firsts, such as falling into the ocean in the middle of February (no matter how thick, a wet suit doesn’t keep you warm); looking at the ocean floor from a new vantage; and, best of all, hurtling toward the beach at a reckless speed. The reckless speed can be a heart-pounder, especially when, from that vantage, you realize you’re heading for the rocks.

“Dad,” Ted said on Saturday, “your board is down here. Do you want to stop down and we’ll see what’s it’s like?”

Actually, he already had his read on conditions. It looked to be flat water.

His forecast wouldn’t send surfers flocking to Matunuck, one of Ted’s favorites for “supping” or windsurfing, if it’s blowing 20 knots or more. But that sounded good for me; gentle rollers would give me a chance to ride a couple of waves standing up and maybe get the “feel” of it.

Little did I know, I was about to be introduced to another first: Surfer philosophy and Surfer etiquette.

On prior sorties, we met up with one or more of Ted’s friends. We’d paddle beyond the smaller waves and hang out in somewhat of a group, waiting for a good set to come along. When the waves arrived, the chatter would cease and everyone would start paddling like crazy. One after the next would shoot off in a blanket of white foam, turning back into the oncoming breakers just before being catapulted onto the rocky shore. Sometimes they would fall before getting that far, but that was the exception. Kneeling on my board, I would catch the occasional wave and get the exhilarating feeling of the ride and, once in awhile, the humiliation of being rolled helplessly as the nose of the board submerged and sent me flying.

On Sunday morning, there were only four cars in the lot and a man looking out at the ocean. Usually, even at 7:30 on a weekend, three or four surfers and another half-dozen paddleboards are bobbing in the waves offshore. That wasn’t the case Sunday. There were two surfers. That was it.

“That’s not so bad,” said Ted, with obvious excitement, as a set of three waves lifted from the otherwise smooth waters.

He wasted no time in offloading the boards from the roof rack and pulled on his booties. The man who had been watching was likewise encouraged. He slid open the door to his van and climbed in to get changed. The race was on to catch a wave.

The word seemed to have spread somehow; by the time I had paddled out, another five to six surfers showed up.

The morning was spectacular. A gentle offshore wind made it easy to wait for the waves without having to paddle furiously in one place. Point Judith was on the horizon. The distinctive shape of the Block Island ferry cut the distant waters and the sandy cliffs of the island were visible.

Ted made one run after the next. I caught a few waves and Ted offered some suggestions, including crouching and keeping my butt low. I didn’t master it, but was able to make a couple of standup runs.

I was waiting out a set when a wallop came from the crashing waves. It was a cry of sheer exhilaration. Then coming toward me from the white water appeared a surfer. He wore a wide smile, his eyes on fire.

“That was beautiful. I was in the tube, the f…… tube, can you believe it?”

“That must have been great,” I responded, although I could only guess what he was talking about.

I didn’t see the surfer again until I carried my board up the beach to the car. He was seated on the sand, his back against a snow fence talking to a buddy. A couple of dogs were racing back and forth in front of him in a game of tag.

He wore a sun-bleached shortie wetsuit. White whiskers spotted his bronzed face. He was still supercharged about riding “the tube” or “barrel,” as he also called it.

We traded names and when Ted called me “Dad,” Mark immediately caught on.

“How cool is that,” he said.

I told him I was still in the learning stages.

“But you had fun,” Mark said, and I agreed.

“That’s what counts. No one can teach you that.”

Ted and I continued to the car. The boards were strapped down and we had toweled off and changed, ready for breakfast, when

Mark appeared.

“You know that F word,” he said, “that’s not me. I usually don’t use it.”

Ted shrugged off his apology. He said it hadn’t offended us.

“Yeah,” Mark added. “That was some…” he paused to find the right word and couldn’t, “tube…See you next time.”


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