Albino Rhinno/Activist

“Will with a 9’4″ at Nags Head, N.C. What a gut!” Photo: Rinehart

The Inertia

On a beach in Ocean City, Maryland in 1987, U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For blasted on the radio while a boy got pounded in the shore break by his first-ever wave, coughing up salt water.

One particular man watched with genuine joy. He was witnessing his son fall in love with the ocean.

That man was my father and the boy catching his first wave was me.

“Again, Again!” I begged him to push me out over and over. I was hooked. I didn’t know it yet but that day began a journey longer than I could have imagined. For me, and likely for you as well, the ocean grew to be a friend, a confidant, a therapist, shaman, and healer.


In the three decades since, I’ve been lucky to travel just to simply look for waves. That fed a love of exploring. I found friends. I found humility. But life, like waves, has a way of teaching you that there is always more to learn. Cancer has a way of doing that. You know, in case you missed the lesson the first time.

To fully understand, let’s go back to that same beach in Ocean City in 1962. Chubby Checker’s The Twist is playing from a friend’s convertible on that same beach. Or maybe it was Ray Charles’ I Can’t Stop Loving You. I don’t know, I wasn’t alive yet. Hell, I wasn’t even a thought in young Will’s mind. It’s funny calling the late teen in these pictures Will. I’ve only ever known my father as Bill, but in 1962, it was Will spending time in “the soup” with friends, searching for stoke before anyone knew what that meant. Looking back at these old photos of my dad I feel like I’m looking at an entirely different person from the man who raised me. The man I know carried the weight of his responsibilities at all times.

Long after my dad had stopped surfing, and long before his cancer diagnosis, he would pick me up after he was done working for the day and drive me to the beach to surf in the dark. He would take his flashlight out and read a book, laughing while I got pounded over and over in the shore break. It was awesome. My dad and I have experienced our fair share of ups and downs but we always had surfing and memories like that.

Fast forward to the more immediate past now. The night before flying home to meet with my dad and his oncologist, I was an absolute disaster. I needed to clear my head. Instinctively, I went for a surf under the full moon. It took about 30 minutes just to get past the white water but the ocean, as it does, wanted to teach me a lesson. I found myself on a hamster wheel, unable to see the rip or any other common identifiers for an easier paddle. But I was giggling each time I got steamrolled by a wave I’d never seen coming. I even started to love it. During one particularly aggressive tumble, I caught a glimpse of the beach and, as if teleported, I swore I could see Dad on the sand reading by flashlight, laughing at me, and encouraging me to keep going. So I did.

Since that trip and Dad’s Stage-4 diagnosis, I have been calling him on my way to my surf sessions. My 18-minute drive is just long enough to check in and give the surf report. He lights up if the swell is anything overhead. And if I tell him it’s going to be double overhead or bigger, without missing a beat, he responds, “Oh my goodness, Billy! That’s great.” In some ways, our relationship has never been better.

Then I go through old pictures of my dad surfing. I see the kid that would finish stocking groceries at 2 a.m. just so he could make it to the Outer Banks by sunrise. I see the kid who was brave enough to enter the first-ever surf competition in his area. I see the man that would become my father. I see the fight that is still inside of him now. And Stage 4 cancer can’t touch Will.

I am filled with a deep sense of love and gratitude for my dad and his optimism and readiness to fight his diagnosis. Now my trips to the beach take on a more special meaning. I know he is there with me when I’m out surfing. Just like that boy in Ocean City with U2 blaring in the background, hoping Dad would see and be proud of the two-second ride in shore break waves. I hope that man knows how proud his son is of the way he’s living and fighting cancer today.

So, Bono, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, try surfing.

Style never goes out of style… Photo: Rinerhart


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