I got a stand up paddle board (SUP) for my birthday, fulfilling maybe the last real dream I have had for my life, besides the obvious- never having to worry about money ever again. Wanting to travel the world. Or finding a cure for cancer. I opened my gifts later in the day on my birthday, after we had already been to the beach. I couldn’t wait to get back there and play with my new toy! The day after, I waited all day to take my board out. My family had birthday fatigue from the day before and they had to resume their normal activities for a while. (We go big for birthdays and it can be wonderfully exhausting for all involved.) For my husband, he needed garage time- straightening and porch screen replacing and weed eradicating. For my kids, midnight basketball in the daytime, with music played LOUDLY. It’s OK. I had a stellar day before, filled with all of my favorite things. I was patient in waiting them out.
We drove over (drover should be a word) the last bridge to the beach. There are four between our house and the ocean. I could see the wind on the water, but I wouldn’t let anything but calm waters register. Nope. Not windy. Not choppy. Not current-y.
Lumbering over the dunes and down to the water’s edge, the wind grabbed the front of my board and tried to whip me around. Sometimes I let it, doing a funny pirouette dance down to our spot on the sand. Step step pause step step step pivot pause step step step.
After making peace with the wind, my next thought was, “Why are all these other people here? Oh brother. I’ve been waiting ALL DAY to do this and now I’m so conspicuous with this big old board and now I HAVE to do it. And it is SO WINDY.”
Teeny tiny little humans on surfboards no bigger than cafeteria trays. They mock me, goad me into the water. Ohh how I WISH I had learned to surf when I was their size! Now I have the equivalent of an elderly person’s walker in my huge board and paddle. They would be so encumbered, but it gives me a freedom on the water I have never been able to enjoy- until today.
Clumsily manage board leash hat paddle in the breakers. Heave myself onto my belly on the board and start paddling for my life. I don’t feel as if I’m getting anywhere. Wave after wave comes. I ride over them with ease, surprisingly, but when will they stop coming? They will stop coming when I am strong enough to paddle past them. All of them.
Slide up onto my knees, find my balance just for the moment and start paddling again, this time with the actual paddle, not just my arms. Paddling and forward motion helps keep your balance more than any weight-shifting, feet sliding back-bending contortions ever will.
The going is strong and good, but I am still on my knees. These people on shore didn’t come all this way to watch me play it safe. (I know no one’s really paying attention to me, but it gives me the kick in the pants I need to make my next move.)
Finally see a break in the relentless marching waves and pop up to standing. It’s not even a decision I make. Just one word in my head- GO. Then, paddle paddle paddle till my heart slows down and I remember to take a breath.
All of the power and energy of every molecule of water and every organism in the ocean rises up to meet my board and show me who is in charge. Who is in charge? The one who ordered the tides calls the shots.
Calm down enough to see that I have matched my efforts with the wind and the water to carry me… nowhere, actually. I am running in place. But I ride on top of the entire ocean. This is somewhere that only a lucky, brave few get to navigate. I’m not a surfer, but I am gratefully in their territory. It is thrilling and dangerous. I can only focus on the few yards of water ahead of me as I paddle left, switch hands, paddle right.
The board shudders from bow to stern, tip to tail with the power of the universe. And I am riding above it. I am riding two inches above it, but connected to it and in awe of it and a little afraid of it. But I am here.
Mentally locating myself back on the thinnest edge of blue on planet earth, my board is even with the end of the pier. I am not going beyond that arbitrary boundary that I tell myself is where the sharks are lurking. As if I’m just inside a net separating me from the terrifying creatures of the deep. Each whipped-up peak looks like a fin. There is no net.
If I look down to notice how cute my toes look on my board, I start to wobble. If I think about sharks, I rock side to side. If I stop paddling and just try to balance, my legs start to shake. Such is life. I have to look up, look forward, look around me, and MOVE to feel stable.
Turning the board around- heading toward sunset. The blue and white of the western sky making room for a little yellow. Now a little peach. Some pink. A flash of violet in the periphery that disappears if I look directly at it.
Feeling the swell at the back of the board, rolling under my feet and eventually ahead of me and away to break on the sand. Some little grommet snatched that wave up. I was just proud that I didn’t do the SUP two-step off the back and land with a splash into the water.
As I reach shore, a congratulations from a fellow surfer. “You almost had it. Just a few more strokes and you would have caught it.”
Me, nervously laughing, “Oh, I’m not trying to surf out here. I’m just trying to stay upright…
If I did want to surf one in, how do I keep myself from running off the back of the board when the wave lifts it?”
“You just go with it.”
A few more words between us, technicalities about balance and forward and backward and foot position and then he says it again, “Just go with it.”
I have always loved the line in the Mumford and Sons’ song, Hopeless Wanderer- “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” I have spent years putting those words into practice. It’s easy on a warm summer evening at sunset on the beach. Now it’s time to learn to love the seas I’m over.
And just go with it.