Maybe This Is the Year

Jul 16, 2019

Credit Mary Bergman

Spring is beginning to stretch its legs, the sun is calling to us to get outside and move around. There are moments now, when the sun comes out and decides to stay a while, when the wind is still, where it feels as bright and warm as mid-July.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I rode a rickety bike out to Nantucket’s south shore. The bike had seen better days, this was its first journey out after overwintering in my grandparent’s garage. Bikes tend to pass through my family like umbrellas, left on one end of the island and later picked up by an uncle or cousin, never returned to its original location.

As a child in Provincetown, teetered there at the tip of Cape Cod, where I grew up, I’d ride my bike from one end of town to the other, over and over again. It was easy enough to do in a town only three miles long. Riding a bike was one of the few athletic pursuits I had any real command of. I’d tried other activities, as the tallest kid in my class of a dozen or so, I was pressed into service playing basketball, soccer, and a number of team sports I did not excel in. A ballet teacher, an old woman who taught from her chair, taping her cane in time to the music, told me maybe karate would be a better fit.

We tried roller blading, when the stores in the center of town sold smoke-damaged merchandise at discounted prices after the great February fire ripped through the heart of town. After too many skinned knees to count, we hung up those spurs. Instead, we went birding in Beech Forest with water-damaged binoculars, dried out in an oven on low heat.

Then came the summer of surfing. I was endlessly impressed by the kids I knew in Wellfleet, all of whom, it seemed, knew how to surf. I spent some summer afternoons watching them from the safety of the beach at Cahoon Hollow, amazed at their mastery over their own bodies. The surfers moved fluidly through the waves, but never seemed bothered when they were knocked down.

I wanted nothing more than to be like them, to be strong and powerful, to become one with the waves. If I couldn’t be a mermaid, maybe I could try to surf. I spent most of that summer getting sunburned, paddling out and catching one wave in one hundred.  I probably only rode the waves for fifteen seconds at a time before crashing into the break, but it felt like flying. In the years since, I’ve stuck to swimming.

The rickety bike held out long enough to make it to the beach at Nonantum, where one lone wetsuit clad surfer sat on his board, waiting for the right moment when wind and tide conspired together. He darted through the waves, twisting and turning, the only person in the water. Down the beach a-ways were trucks with tailgates open, charcoal briquettes heating, beers cracking, radios playing. Summer was drifting in, as if it would be here with the next shift of the tide.

Maybe this is the summer I try my hand at surfing again.