“Starting Point” in the National Catholic Reporter (August 11, 2006).
I walk the beach with my toddler daughter, a bucket of ocean in tow. Looking to the waves, a man is teaching his son to bodysurf, and I catch of glimpse of my past and my future.
As a child, there was no missing my 6-foot-4 father standing in his yellow bathing suit amidst the waves. Eyeing up the perfect wave, he would find the one he wanted, wait for the precise moment, and then dive. I would look on in awe as his shiny pale body sped through the sea. Arms outstretched in front of him, he didn’t surface until his stomach began to scrape against the sand in the shadow of the lifeguard stand. My father, the world’s best bodysurfer!
With patience and time, my father taught his seven sons the secrets and the art of bodysurfing. How to pick the right wave: Keep eyes toward England and wait for the big one to arrive. When to dive: Not too early and not too late. You don’t want the wave to push you along; you want to be part of the wave itself, your head and outstretched arms just an extension of the crashing wave. Let the cresting wave have a one-stroke head start, then catch up with it. Time it right, and you’ll join it just as it begins to crash. How to position your hands: Joined together with palms down, hand over hand, as if you were blessing everything in your path.
More than technique, however, I remember the secrets behind the technique: patience, practice, encouragement, fun, and most importantly, faith. With these ideals instilled in me by my father, I remember the first time I truly caught a wave.
Jumping just as the wave’s crest turned into crash, I became one with the wave. Water rushed around me with unimaginable force. My body shook, tempting me to pull up. I had faith, though, and resisted. Still under water, racing at an exhilarating speed and somehow smiling to myself the entire way, nothing but the wave existed. When I finally did stop, I looked up and found myself next to the lifeguard stand. I jumped up in excitement and looked at where I had started. Dad stood in the water, holding out a great big thumbs-up. I raced into the water, ready to do it again.
I look down at my daughter as her tiny footprints sink into the sand. As the years go by, I hope she has similar memories. Not in reliving my life, but in sharing the family secrets: patience, practice, encouragement, fun, and faith.
And enjoying the ride.