My dad pulls our Jeep up on Butler Beach, always near the butter yellow house but never past Mary Street. We usually try to go where other surfers are or where we know they’ll be -“So there’ll be more legs in the water,” he always jokes – and today is no different. Two familiar trucks are calmly sunning in the sand and as we make our way out into the water, boards and paddles in tow, the faces of two fellow surfers bobbing in the waves start to take shape.
The customary greetings are exchanged. As it’s a day where you can wait for the good waves, we do just that. Frank and I begin talking about his wife, whose passion for horses almost rivals his love of waves, and I can hear my dad talking to the other man – a true character who’s asked to be called Shady – about GoPros and SUP techniques.
Frank and I have met several times, and we’re old familiars of sorts out on the ocean, comfortable with each other, laughing, joking, sharing advice and anecdotes. I can’t help thinking, even as we sit together on our surfboards in a semblance of friendship, that we probably wouldn’t know each other if we’d met outside of these waves. I’m not an ageist, but I am twenty-two and Frank is, well, much older than that. Dude’s got grandkids. If we’d have met each other anywhere else say, at the gym or at a cafe, I probably (maybe) would have smiled and given a hesitant hello. But I know that I wouldn’t be willing to chat like we’re chatting today. Out on the water, things are different. Frank seems wise—not old—and each time he catches a wave in the gentle, graceful way of his, I can’t help but be impressed and think “man, I wish I was as good as he is.”
Maybe it’s because surfing is a sport of finesse over power, where years give more than they take, as evidenced by the likes of Kelly Slater (my dad has a great anecdote about blowing off the opportunity to see Slater when both he and Kelly were just kids). Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because the flowing and expansive ocean with its rhythmic and consistent tides inspires in us some memory or hope of eternity—of timelessness—and makes us feel as though we’re all kind of young and fresh in the great expanse of time. Whatever it is, surfing seems to present a special kind of space for those old and young to be nothing more than what their bodies can do out on the water—surfers, plain and simple.