The waves never relent. A group of Sanderlings, all grey and brown and white like they are made from the same sand they run on, chase the ebb and flee the flow. Two boys, lathered with lotion and stung with sun, fight over the height of their tiny Tintagel. The high tide washes over my feet, baptizing them in the name of this unchanging summer ritual.
It’s impossible not to notice the surfers, the dots of purple and blue and orange on the horizon appearing and disappearing behind troughs and crests. I watch their practiced patterns: wait, paddle, stand, ride. I admire how they jump up from their knees to their feet, like proud warriors against the waves. I cringe as they fall, face first, into the greenish brine. From the dry safety of my chair I’m with them, balanced as precariously between awake and asleep as they are between surfing and swimming.
As a black wet suit and orange board peaks at the top of a foaming surge, another surfer slides by, thrashing wildly on the stubby East Coast wake, like a shark caught in waters too shallow for comfort. He turns hard, spraying water behind him, before the energy of the wave is spent, and his ride unceremoniously ends. Slapping the water out of frustration, he pulls himself back up onto his board.
I’m sure out there -weightless, bobbing, free – we sand-slugs look silly hunching under umbrellas, sprawling on towels like jerky left to dry in the sun. Out there, in the endless tides, where a dolphin is more than just a fin in the distance, a man can be calm. Out there, where the only focus is feet and wax and waves and wonder.
I swear to myself I’ll ride one of these days, feel the spray of salt on my face. I swear I’ll know the freedom and fun of a day on a longboard. I tell myself to just stay positive, to work hard, to take it one day at a time. I tell myself that practice makes perfect and without pain there is no gain.
I call to my assistant. The thin wheels of my chair are stuck in the wet sand. This happens every summer, when I demand time at the beach, and then demand I wheel myself to a ramp, off the boardwalk, into the sand, down to the water.
I tell myself that soon I’ll be unstuck. I won’t need an assistant to wheel me back to the van. Soon I’ll be able to feel that water washing over my feet, feel the sand burn my soles. Soon I’ll have an orange board and a black wet suit of my own. Soon it will be the power of the wave carrying me forward, not the power of my arms.
Soon I’ll be out there.