Sunday, May 29, 2005

Bodysurf

I was raised in Southern California, where, at that time, if you lived anywhere else other than Southern California, the image you were served was courtesy of the Beach Boys and their endless summers. It’s true the sun shines most of the time, but where I was raised the sun was like a furnace. I used to joke it got so hot where I lived, it would be too hot to go swimming. I lived in a valley about an hours drive east from the nearest beach. While I didn’t go to the beach all the time, I did go, and when I went it was usually with my brother, my sister, and my Dad.

I have many fond memories of my Dad piling us into the car (at various times a ’68 Ford Fairlane, ’73 Ford Courier, with camper shell, and even a ’74 Ford Pinto station wagon, yellow). My fondest memory is of driving down the 15 on the way to the beach in the ’68 Ford Fairlane, all the window rolled down, the wind blowing like crazy in the car with me sitting in the back seat, my arms pointing straight out over the front seats pretending I was Superman flying down The 15, Dad laughing out loud as I was flying off to save the world.

My dad was an avid body surfer and we would often head down to OB (Ocean Beach), or PB (Pacific Beach), but Dad’s favorite beach was Torrey Pines State Beach, and because that was his favorite beach, Torrey Pines was my favorite, too (Mom never came with us, she hated the beach and “all that sand”.) Afer we arrived at the beach, we would gather our towels, backpack loaded with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, juice, and Hostess Ding Dongs (there was no sun block; we didn’t know about skin cancer then). With the heat radiating up from the asphalt, we would all make our way across the parking lot to the beach. As we approached the beach I could see my dad already gazing out at the waves, deciding which end of the beach had the best waves that day. Walking up to the edge for the parking lot and the beginning of the beach, all three of us would stop and let Dad decide where to go. He would stare out over the throngs of people and beach umbrellas losing himself in the sounds of the waves crashing to the shore, the seagulls calling to each other, feeling the warmth of the sun on his skin. My brother, sister and I would stand and wait for him to make his decision. I always knew he had found the perfect place when a smirk would grow slowly on his face; he would look down at us with that smirk growing into a big smile, “over there,” he would say pointing to the area of beach he had deemed perfect. With the decision made, we would all move out onto the sand, our flip-flops throwing sand up onto our calves as we followed Dad to that perfect spot.

After laying out our towels, Dad would always be the first to be out in the water; waving to us to follow. I was amazed at how his personality would change when we got to the beach; at home he seemed to have a resigned look to his face and posture; a man defeated, perhps, but when at the beach, a kind of spark and childlike energy would exude from every pore of his body. Happiness. It was times like this I made every effort to follow him so I could be part of this momentary change. I wanted to hold onto his joy for as long as I could. It was here I learned want the difference between real life and the beach is. I would always run after my dad into the water, anticipating the water’s cold shock as I ran further and further into the foaming green water. As I ran into the water, Dad would be swimming out so he could catch his first wave before coming back to me to give me a quick lesson in how the body surf. I gladly gave him his first few waves before I demanded he show me how body surf, though. Even though I had gone bodysurfing with my dad many times, I always wanted him to show me how again.

After a few runs on his own, he would beckon me out further into the water so he could show me how to catch a wave. I would swim out to where he was treading water. I always tried to ignore my slight fear of not being able to see the bottom (the movie Jaws was always on my mind when I went the beach.) When I would finally reach my dad, he would always start the lesson by saying, “okay, here’s what you do…” He would tell me how to swim in front of the swell before it “broke” and as the swell became a wave and crested, to put my arms at my side, being sure to keep my body straight, using my hands like flippers to guide myself as the wave carried me to the shore. I would make many failed attempts, watching as my dad caught each and every wave, ridding them to the shore. Dad would always come back out and tell me how I almost got it that time, and when I did catch a wave, he would always enthusiastically say, “there you go, you got it now!” But after trying to catch as many waves as I could, I always felt I needed to leave Dad to surf. There was always a point where I would feel he wanted to be alone so he could ride in peace. As I would walk up to out spot on the beach where we had placed our towels, I would turn towards to the water to see my dad being carried by a wave as if he were part of the wave, only breaking free to avoid crashing into the beach. After every run, he would turn to the beach, search the shore for my brother and sister, me, wave and plunge back into the water for another run.

After a while, Dad would come out of the water with a big smile on his face, collapse onto a towel and ask if anyone wanted sandwiches. We would all sit on our towels and eat sandwiches while my dad would try and convince my brother to go in the water and bodysurf. My brother always said no; he was much more interested in watching the girls in their bikinis than bodysurfing. I think Dad understood that my brother was getting to the age when girls were becoming very important. After my brother declining, Dad would turn to me, tussle my hair and say it was all right, “Michael likes too go out.” Never wanting to leave anyone out, Dad would turn to my sister and ask if she was going to the tide pools. She would always say that, yes she was going to. “Good, why don’t we go after we eat?” She would smile and say okay. That was something my dad always did, he never let anyone feel left out. He always tried to include everyone when we were at the beach. Dad knew what we all liked, and would take the time to let us know he liked what we liked, too.

I would usually tag along with my sister and Dad to the tide pools; I liked to find spider starfish and crabs. Dad would never let us take one out of the water; he said we had to be careful not to do any damage to the pools. He was always conscientious about that sort of thing. My dad always had a love for nature, it is easy to see his love for nature in the many watercolor paintings he did. The paintings were mostly of mountains or the beach. He hardly ever included people in his paintings, when he did, they were always secondary, an after thought. I never liked the paintings he did that included people; the people always marred the paintings somehow.

After we got back from the tide pools, Dad would always stop and stare out at the water trying to figure out if he should go for a couple more runs. Usually, by this time, my brother, sister and I were beat and just wanted to go home. He would notice this and announce it was time to go. There always seemed a deflation in Dad’s energy when we would gather up our towels and trash to go home. I don’t know if it was that he was just tired, or he was sad to leave his beloved beach, his escape.

During the drive home, all the excitement of pretending to be Superman was drained away by the sun, surf and sand; everyone was quiet, my sister in the front seat would often be sleeping, my brother looking out the window dozing on and off. I was always looking around the car at everyone wondering what my brother was thinking staring out the window, not saying a word, but most of all it was my dad I was curious about. He was always such a different person when we were at the beach. He was alive and smiling, full of energy. Driving back home, his energy level seemed to disappear the closer we got to the house. When we would pull up to the house, he would turn to my sister and gently awaken her from her sleep and tell here we were home. He would then turn to me and my brother, and say, “okay, here we are, let’s get inside to your Mother. As we all walked into the house, my Mother would always ask us in a cheery voice how the beach was. “It was great,” my dad said with forced cheerfulness.

While at home, Dad seemed resigned to a life I didn’t understand; a life I don’t think I wanted to understand.

Now as an adult, looking back through the filter of my memories, I know my Dad lived a life not just for himself, but also for his family. And because of that, my respect for him will never waiver.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

That was raw and beautiful.

11:08 AM  
Blogger ed said...

hey man this was real cool kinda like when i was a kid and went to the beach with my dad now im 42 and still love to go i live in philly and im one hour from the shore me and my wife go ever weekend this past weekend we took our grandson for the first time(he,s 9) i bought a boogie board and body surfed all day long i loved it the power of the beach is a strong force.

6:41 AM  

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