I never thought I would be that guy. The guy standing on the shore on a rainy October afternoon in Maine. The guy squeezed into a wetsuit with a red and yellow boogie board leashed to his wrist. The guy gazing into the sloppy beach break under steel-gray clouds, wind whipping sand into his eyes and ears. The guy with no towel, just an old fleece baby blanket he found in his trunk.
(The guy who politely refused the kind offer from his wife to take one of the freshly laundered and fluffed-up beach towels she had lovingly folded and proffered to him on his way out the door with the arms of his wetsuit tied around his waist. No thanks, babe, the guy said, I have a spare towel in my trunk. The guy was wrong. And was lucky there was a Hefty bag in his trunk filled with old baby clothes (and fleece blankets) that he hadn’t dropped off at Goodwill yet.)
That guy, in case you hadn’t guessed, was me. I drove down to Popham Beach in Phippsburg yesterday afternoon, determined to go surfing. My car thermometer read fifty-one degrees. It was overcast, threatening, then delivering, rain. I was wearing my wetsuit and a t-shirt. I was barefoot, car heater cranking.
When I pulled into the parking lot, my State of Maine Parks season pass was unnecessary. There were no park rangers at the check-in hut and about ten cars in the lot. All the lifeguard chairs were stacked to one side and chained together for the winter. The bathrooms and changing rooms were locked. The drinking fountains and outdoor showers had been turned off. Even the outhouses were padlocked shut. In case I didn’t know it yet, summer was officially over.
I still don’t have my own surfboard, but yesterday realized that I don’t have to be ashamed. I could qualify what I did as body-boarding, as if it was some loser cousin of “real” surfing, but surfing is surfing. Ancient Polynesian kings, some of them, rode waves on their bellies. With no shame. I was in the water, riding the waves, and that’s all that counts.
A few brave sea kayakers kept me company. Off in the distance at the other break, I could see some paddle-boarders. At first I thought they were my surfing brethren, but then I saw the tell-tale paddles that resemble giant swizzle-sticks, and I knew I was really alone.
But isn’t that why we go into the ocean, sometimes? To be out of reception? There were hardly any waves to speak of, and even if I had a “real” surfboard, I couldn’t have done much with it. My little red and yellow boogie board was just perfect, actually. I spent about an hour in the water, caught a few really good waves, and flew to shore head first, arms back, like Superman cruising over Metropolis.
I’ve played it safe my entire life. Body-boarding sloppy beach breaks in October isn’t exactly scaling Everest, I know. But I never thought that when my wife and I moved to Maine almost fifteen years ago, I would ever be playing in the ocean in October, much less surfing. I didn’t know how fortuitous our move to the Midcoast would prove to be, with two world-class beaches on either side of our small city’s bridge, beaches that produced some of the tastiest, bite-sized, surfable shark-free waves a forty-six-year-old grommet like me could ask for.
I never thought I would be the guy who would be floating in the waves as folks trundled by onshore in their fleece hat and mittens, no doubt wondering who that crazy fool was, in the ocean in Maine in October.
But yesterday, I was that crazy fool. I was that guy. I walked out of the ocean with a smile on my face. I said a little prayer of thanks to Jack O’Neill for inventing the wetsuit. I was ready once again to share my stoke for this mysterious, surprising and ultimately glorious life with the ones I love. The sand in my ears this morning reminds me.