I recently visited my friend Carl in Newport Beach. He and I both grew up there, in the same neighborhood where he now lives. He had newly returned after years living in the Midwest with his wife and four kids pursuing a career that at first was too good to pass up. After some time it became his goal to move back, before his kids were too old to have a chance to “grow up” at the beach. The opportunity finally came and he jumped on it.
And so we sat on Igloo ice chests in his new and still empty house. The furniture wasn’t due to arrive for another two days, along with the rest of the family. His early arrival was to take care of paperwork, but any excuse to get closer to the ocean was welcome. As soon he came into town the first stop after the bank to sign some documents was to pick up a surfboard—a custom job by another childhood friend who never left the neighborhood. As Carl and I sat in the house, it felt like we were back in the 80s. We hopped in my car and stopped at one of the same haunts for wax and then hit the beach. The south swell that day was an invitation to check out the Wedge. The place turned out to be packed. Mostly kids. Today seemed to be one day in particular that was a proving ground for future watermen. It was surprising how many were out there subjecting them to the threshing machine that was the Wedge on this particular day. Watermen of all kinds take a shot at this unpredictable break and find themselves unpleasantly surprised, but today a big group of groms were daring each other to push themselves. There were all kinds of would-be watermen there. Some with surfboards, some with bodyboards, others wearing fins. One kid even paddled out on a skimboard. I hadn’t seen that before and I almost yelled to him to come back. But then I remembered that when I was a kid, I pushed the envelope the same way. I learned from getting pounded a few times what my limits were. I was sure this kid would soon figure it out as well.
Both Carl and I stopped and watched these kids. It was hysterical. Some of them were getting blown 30 feet into the air from their body boards by the crazy backflow from the Wedge. Fins flopped in the wind as they somersaulted back into the churning wash. I sometimes felt a bit of alarm at the risk these kids were taking. Carl and I both admitted that our first thought would have been to scold our own kids for doing something like this, but we realized that we both terrified our parents the same way—well, on the rare occasion that our parents actually knew what we were up to.
We understood that becoming watermen was not about caution; it was about testing one’s limits. We knew that we’d eventually have to let go of the hands our kids the same as our parents let go of ours. We had to learn to walk on our own. We had to learn to stand on our own two feet both on land and on a surfboard.
Carl turned to me with a grin and said, “I can’t wait until the kids get here.”