The last time I tried to surf, a friend and I took an 8-foot Kmart inflatable called the Sea Hawk into some mild Atlantic surf. As hormone-ravaged 13-year-olds, it was easy enough to swim out into the waves and ride the whitewater to the jeers and insults of the older, much "cooler" surfers who established domain over their backyard waves in their fancy, oar-less boards.
In my return to the Atlantic a week ago, I figured it would be just as easy to paddle a surfboard out. With a choppy series of Tuesday-morning waves crashing on a sandbreak near the southernmost end of the island, I rented a board from the Nantucket Island Surf School - which was less of a "school" and more of a van full of wetsuits. I lugged the monstrous 10-foot board and immersed myself in the appropriate surf-culture mindset, meaning I was replaying as many scenes from "Point Break" in my head as I could.
As I walked the board out, I had it perpendicular in front of my body as a huge wave crashed down. When the board smacked my face, I realized I was out of place and that the only lines I could remember from "Point Break" where those of Gary Busey, the only character in the movie who never actually surfs.
The next hour was spent trying to paddle through the broken waves to mouthfuls of salt water, being jostled around as bare arms were rubbed raw on the sides of the board.
I settled for merely dropping on to the whitewater of the closer walls of foam rushing toward me. After an hour of ill timing and countless episodes of misplacing my weight - moves that kept nose-diving the board and leaving the hapless, tethered victim to flop in the underwater wash - I saw my wave come in, but the overexcitement of trying to swing the board around in time only left me swimming.
With the long board and a little frantic paddling, a rogue wave finally caught me with enough force to hop up and ride the dwindling momentum all the way in.
Day 2 featured much calmer and cleaner wave sets and rides where I could stand up with some regularity and bask in my momentary coolness before falling and being trashed.
My brother-in-law pointed out how the conditions were ideal for learning - warm water, cool temperatures, no crowds and, most importantly, no "surf bro" attitudes. I soaked in the setting as a seal popped his head out of the water 15 feet away.
This strange creature was certainly far from anything that could be considered cute, and all I could think about was it swimming close enough for me to club it. Just the thought crossing my mind was enough blatant lack of respect for the ocean to punish me one more time.
As I caught my first bona-fide breaking wave that I actually dropped in to, the board dove, tossing me up before churning me down and forcing me to realize just how far I was from the coveted coolness of the genuine surfer.