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It was barely a few days into spring when I nervously approached a popup tent on a windy beach at Folly Beach, slightly regretful that I had signed both Maddie and me up for an introductory surfing lesson. “All work and no play” had been bouncing around my mind a week earlier when, in anticipation of a week at the beach with my 16 year old, I found Isla Surf school online. Ambitiously (and maybe with more than a little denial about my physical capabilities), I had breezed through the waivers, unfazed by the warnings that were now swirling through my head and making me consider watching Maddie from the safety of the shore.

Tommy would be the instructor for our private lesson, and his uncanny resemblance to either Jack Black or Zach Galifianakis (is anyone else suspicious that they are the same person?) did little to put my mind at ease. My skepticism must have been apparent, because he quickly sized me up and assured me that not only would we both catch a wave, we were in little danger of getting hurt by the gentle tide (which didn’t look so gentle to me) and the beginner surfboards with flexible fins.

After a few prayers and a mental review of my estate plan, I suited up and joined Tommy and Maddie at the edge of the water, where he was continuing with the canned euphemisms he had bantered about in our land portion of the lesson.

“Remember, get too far back on the board and you’ll pop the equivalent of a wheely, and who pops wheelys like a fool?” he asked. “Your Uncle Charlie,” offered Maddie, with only a hint of an eye roll in my direction. “That’s right, and my Uncle Charlie doesn’t have any teeth. You don’t want to look like Uncle Charlie. ”

We waded into the chilly ocean, following Tommy through waves that nearly knocked me over, until we were about a thousand feet off shore. For the next 90 minutes, Maddie and I took turns paddling on our boards back to Tommy, who watched the movement of the sea and launched each of us repeatedly into what he believed would be the one that hooked us - calling “pop up!” at the precise moment when we had the best chance of catching and riding the wave. The further into the lesson we got, the less Tommy’s euphemisms sounded trite and the more they began to sound philosophical and wise.

“Just take your time and don’t rush it,” he encouraged me. “You have more time than you think and more choice than you realize.”

“Surfing is the only time you can be in the past, present, and future all at the same time,” he instructed Maddie. “Savor it - know where your feet are, remember where you just came from, and keep your eyes on where you are going.”

“You just need to keep your head up,” he reminded us time and time again. “Believe you are going to do it, and you will.”

When our last few launches were upon us, I offered mine to Maddie - who had definitely proven (no surprise) to be the better surfer between us. I dragged my sore muscles and (now) heavy surfboard back to shore and sat at the edge, savoring my kiddo’s tenacity, optimism, and joy. I stood as they approached me, just in time to hear Maddie ask “You don’t really have an Uncle Charlie, do you?” “No,” Tommy laughed, “I don’t - but it helped you remember not to pop a wheely, didn’t it?”

As the world opens back up and warmer weather and vaccines offer plenty of opportunity for hustle and haste, here’s to opportunities to learn new things, take a risk or two, and to play as much and as hard as we work. Oh, and may we all know where our feet are, remember where we have been, and keep our eyes on what’s ahead.

Happy reading and happy spring, y’all.



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