A Father’s Surf Lesson Resurfaces at the Shore

Our writer reminisces about the lessons he learned amid the waves.

As I walked the beach last summer with my young daughter and a bucket of ocean in tow, I spotted a man teaching his son to bodysurf. There in the waves, I glimpsed my past and my future.

There was no missing my father, 6-foot-4 and standing in the water in his yellow bathing suit. Eyeing up the perfect wave, he’d wait for the precise moment—and then he’d dive. I’d watch in awe as his shiny, pale body sped through the sea. Arms outstretched in front of him, he wouldn’t surface until his stomach scraped the sand. 

I’m still convinced that my dad was the world’s best bodysurfer. With patience and time, he taught his seven sons the secrets and the art. To this day, his voiced instructions echo in my head: 

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Pick the right wave. Keep eyes toward England, and wait for the big one to arrive.

Don’t go too early or 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 an extension of the crashing surf. Let the crest 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. Join your hands together with palms down, hand over hand, as if you’re blessing everything in your path.

I remember the first time I truly caught a wave using his tried-and-true technique—the result of patience, practice, encouragement, fun and, most importantly, faith. Making my move just as its crest turned into crash, I became one with the wave, water rushing around me with unimaginable force. My body shook, tempting me to pull up, but I resisted. Still underwater, racing at an exhilarating speed and smiling the entire way, nothing else existed. 

When I finally stopped, I found myself next to the lifeguard stand. I leaped with excitement and looked toward where I’d started. Dad stood in the water, his thumbs pointed upward. I raced back, ready to go again.

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I don’t want my daughter to relive my past. But I do want her to appreciate the merits of patience, practice, encouragement, fun and faith—all the while remembering to enjoy the ride.

Keep up with novelist and West Chester native Michael T. Dolan on his website, www.conversari.com.

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