My teeth chatter as I pull the towel tighter around my shoulders. I sink my feet deeper in the sand to find yesterday’s warmth beneath. The chill running through my body comes not from the air but from the realization that I’m not ready for this.
Although I have been surfing since I could stand, this morning is different. I sit on the sand with the vastness of the ocean spread before me. Right now, the beach is empty save for me and a couple of gulls. Clouds fill the sky as the morning marine layer hugs the shore. In a few hours these clouds will burn off and the shore will come to life. Families with their blankets and umbrellas will stake claim on a piece of sandy real estate. They will bring coolers for picnics and shovels for building sandcastles. The music of countless portable stereos will bump and thump as girls in string bikinis lather sunscreen on their cheeks with the hope not to burn.
For this moment, I can only hear the constant roar of the waves. The ocean rages, yet contains a peaceful calm. It has the ability to soothe over emotions as a skilled psychologist in the art of active listening. The waters reflect and refract, bouncing back feelings and twisting them until you are upside-down and inside-out. The ocean carries you floating to new heights one moment, only to drag you under the next. It is my best friend and the friend that knows me best, aside from my father.
My dad taught me everything I know about surfing from watching the distant horizon for approaching waves to waiting for the right moment to pop up on my feet. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know how to surf. He plopped me on a board when I was just a tot to seek out the “big waves” as I liked to call them. My favorite sessions with dad were on mornings like this. Solo, but together we would ride the waves without saying a word to one another.
But last week, my dad rode his last wave. He took to the wave like any other ride. Together, we both paddled up for the first wave of a set. I managed to squeak out and catch the first wave, but dad ended up on the inside of the set with the approaching waves only growing in strength and size. He made the quick decision to attempt to paddle outside of the now epic wave. The bystanders on the beach told me he pulled and paddled with all of his might making it two-thirds up the face before the wave decided to break, throwing him over with the curl of the lip.
Today is my first day back to confront my friend. I came to make peace, to forgive for the loss and remember the memories we made. I know there have been more good days than bad, but as I remain planted in the sand, I can only recall the fury and force. Towering peaks meant to be summited give way in crumbling avalanches, pulling down any climbers in their path. I am angry and want to turn away, rejecting the ocean’s advances. I put my head down between my knees, holding back a flood of tears.
As the first tear falls, I suddenly feel water gently lapping at my feet like careful caresses as the tide moves in. A steady pulse rises – in and out, push and pull – keeping tempo with my heart. A tender touch reminding me we are still friends. Hugging my towel closer, I stand, plucking my feet from the sand, now cooled by the seeping tide. Picking up my board, I turn my back on the ocean and walk away knowing it will be there when I’m ready.