My 10-year-old son is getting the surfing bug.
He’s been learning for two summers, and he hangs back in the shallows, where it is safer. But this summer, he paddled out on a big day with his 12-year-old sister and me, his face wide.
He paddled up to me on his board, sat up, wobbled a bit, and then looked out for the next big set of waves.
“Outside!” he said, pointing out to sea.
And he paddled out to snare a giant, or to get over it.
He bailed off his board and dove under.
“You alright?” I asked as all three of us were getting back on our boards.
“Yeah, that was a big one!”
I warned him that it would be better if he surfed on the inside, in the whitewater. It’s safer, and it’s for him. He’d wind up there anyway, pushed in after an ill-timed takeoff, sputtering to shore, and then the inside, his territory, while his sister picked off the bigger waves from out back, and I did too.
He seemed to like it this way, riding on his own on the inside.
Or did he?
He couldn’t seem to take the next step. So on an even bigger day, with the tide low and the waves breaking far out, I told him to come with us, and the three of us walked out through the shallows and then paddled through the impact zone to the outside and further to find the big ones, and my son got swept in on the first set.
I saw him on the inside, and my nerves settled. He was safe, and he is still young. His time will come, maybe next summer.
But then there he was again – with us!
A young lifeguard had swum out with him, helping him through the impact zone, where the waves can knock you back.
“Hey, Dad!” he said, paddling up next to me, the lifeguard swimming behind.
My son beamed.
The lifeguard nodded, and, after hesitating for a few seconds, I gave him the thumbs up. Sometimes it is things outside our control and our thought patterns and our safety that make us realize that we can let go, that I can let my son give it a go.
A big wave came, and the lifeguard got my son in position and pushed him on. My son stood up on the peak of an eight-foot wave, twice the size of his frame, and down the face he raced, a screamer of a wave, and to the deep channel inside.
I watched from behind and smiled, and realized right then that, yes, he can do this, and my nerves started to settle.
He paddled back out, and the lifeguard’s face was bright with pride, mine too.
“Did you see that one?” my son asked me when he reached me. “Maybe Mum got it on video?”
“Maybe,” I said.
And we paddled out together to find some more waves, father, daughter and son.