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The Next Step by Ben Zimmer

artwork by Vee Ortner


The waves crashed loudly and violently behind me as I paddled farther out into the ocean. I glimpsed the next wave starting to form. As I slowly reached 100 yards out, Beau, my surfing instructor, yelled, “Don’t be so tense this time!”

My first try had ended with me underwater. As I peered back toward the ocean, I saw a wave creeping its way toward me, so I put one hand on each side of the board and rotated as hard as I could to the right. The wave slowly started to pick me up. I knew then and there I had to paddle as fast as I could to make the wave. Water splashed around me and my board as I carefully moved into a position where I could get myself up. Then in one quick motion, I stood. It didn’t take long for the wave to unbalance me and sweep the board right out from under my body.

I got out of the water and wiped away the salt that had gotten in my eyes. Beau said, “You didn’t look too relaxed.”

I responded, "It’s pretty hard when a wave is crashing behind me.” I knew he was right, but at the same time I didn’t know what else to do, so I asked, “How do you get yourself in a good position to stand up?” Beau put his board on the sand and said, “You have to keep your stance slightly wider than your shoulder length.”

I asked, “How are you able to stay up and not fall off your board?”

Beau said, “The best way to get it down is to take your time and stay calm. I know it seems hard but it will be so easy once you get it down.”

Letting out a loud breath, I reluctantly listened to Beau. As I took steps back toward the ocean, the sand seemed frigid yet gave a burning sensation, almost as if it were snow. The long break outside the water made it even more miserable getting back in. I knew once I started paddling I would warm back up again. So I slowly started paddling my way back to where I attempted to ride the first wave.

When I reached that location, I remembered what Beau said he loved most about surfing. Not the waves or learning new tricks, but the people he met, the views he saw, and the accomplishment he felt after surfing. He didn’t seem worried at all about who would hit the biggest wave or who could do the coolest trick. It just wasn’t about that for him. So in my attempt to ride the wave, I would try to be the best Beau I could be. As the next wave slowly crested the silver-lined horizon, I knew I would be ready.

The wave started to pick me up. I paddled as hard as I could, and my breathing became more evident, growing louder and heavier. Keeping my stance at shoulder length, gradually lifting my knee and pushing my shoulders upward, I stood up. The board under me squirmed around. As I tried to keep balance, the wave curled more and more, nearly hurling me forward off the board. Shocked at what had just happened I didn’t know what to do, so I glanced around towards what surrounded me: the sunrise-gold beach, the waves with the radiant light reflecting off them, and the seagulls squawking over my head. Everything just became so much more surreal. Slowly the wave started to die out as I came closer to shore.

Hopping off my board into the water, I glanced up to see Beau with a radiant smile on his face.

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