I slip my wedding band off and lock it in the car each time I go surfing. The ring is a little loose on my finger, and I don’t want to lose it. Down to just my wetsuit and board, jogging off to hit the waves, I always feel I’m slipping away from my “real” life even if just for an hour.
The feeling isn’t relief, exactly (that might be a problem), but it is a welcome break when I touch back in with myself. Still, there is that moment, that slight twist-and-pull, when I remove the outward symbol of my commitment to my wife and our children, and move through the world as a man on his own.
To be clear, and fair, my wife takes her ring off on the job too (I suppose surfing is part of my “job”). The glittering little diamonds are not well suited to placing plants in the gardens she designs. But this ring-on vs. ring-off business has me thinking about surfing (and sailing), and what constitutes reasonable expectations in the midst of guiding two little ones through childhood and partnering with a spouse, emotionally and financially.
Bottom line, we’re either there for the people in our lives or we are not. But surfing and sailing present particular challenges to the traditional family dynamic. By surfing and sailing I don’t mean an occasional paddle once the rest of the chores are done, or an afternoon out to the buoy and back in the Santa Barbara Harbor. These activities are great and fun, but I’m referring to wilderness shores and the weeks it sometimes takes to get there and return.
There’s simply no justifying bigger journeys, except with a slender excuse that there could be some money it for the family once a surfing article gets published – but that’s a stretch. Yet somehow, I manage a few trips a year by myself and lots of other more localized surfing, mostly because my wife is a very cool woman who understands that life is mysterious and that there is more to it than strictly working (although we are both working a lot these days in our respective businesses).
I often think that it’s important to keep surfing and doing the things that I love because of the example it sets for my daughter and son. That may be the world’s greatest justification, but I believe it’s true. And I am home every night, except for those few trips a year, and we love our family weekends together too. Also, because I limit my travel (Covid-19 restrictions notwithstanding), and even my day-in-day-out surfing, I’m still pursuing it here into my 50s with the same enthusiasm as when I started at 10-years-old.
“Sprints and lulls,” is my approach. I’ll go flat out for three days of a good swell, then not get in the water for a week. It’s easy, after all, to get in the habit of a daily routine, to simply work and come home and cut out “extraneous” activities, but it is the infusions of nature, magic and exercise, that make me feel whole.
Aside from whether or not I keep my wedding band on when I go surfing, I’m feeling a travel itch that I’m sure connects to Covid time. We cancelled a family trip to the Yucatan Peninsula last summer (not a surf trip, but it would have been great) because of the Covid numbers there. In addition to the potential danger in it, we also felt it would be rude somehow to press ahead with vacation plans when the people there were on the brink of yet another lockdown.
So now I’m thinking of some trips I’d like to do to connect with a few people around the world, and get that shift in perspective that only comes from changing the backdrop. There’s Ireland, of course, but also Cornwall. And Spain. I need to see some folks in Hawai’i. And New Zealand. It’s a long and ever-growing list.
The reality, for now, is that I am very fortunately living with my family and working hard every day shaping surfboards. I’m on Daddy Duty most afternoons these days because my wife is juggling multiple projects, teaching at City College, and on the board of the Central Coast Green Building Council. Yet I realize that life does not get better than this. We are so very lucky, in regard to our health, personal economies, and our children. There does seem to be some element of the divine in it all. (And I’m hoping that I don’t come off as boastful here.)
I leave to shape at about 6:30 a.m. so I can pick up the kids when school gets out. It doesn’t feel like enough time to devote to my business, but my wife is fully booked these days. Looking back, I realize that there have been many years when she took on the more-traditional role of caregiver while I went off to work, to say nothing of the effort it took for her to grow and birth the kids too!
The trick in life (if “tricks” in life actually exist), I think, is to balance responsibilities with opportunities for adventure, remembering that time is elastic: sometimes pressed down tight with no room, other times expanded and languid. Clearly, the clock is running, and no one knows what calamity may befall them, but it’s the littlest things that keep the fire lit.
And finally, an update on our friends in Australia and the husband who was nearly lost at sea in the Timor Strait: He seems cured, finally (or at least temporarily), of his need for reckless adventure and is gratefully allowing his wife to have her say as to what they’re doing as a family. Miraculously, his boat was found adrift, back near Timor, and someone moored it for him back in the harbor he started from.
I’m pretty sure he kept his ring on throughout the whole ordeal.