Richard Green from South Devon sent this in for the Great Carve Writing comp.
It is not easy being a surfer in the UK or Eire in the winter if you hold down a job, even harder if you have a job and a family. But spring is the time the old fellas get to kick their heels and run with the mustangs…for an hour or two anyway…
It was getting light and I could just about make out the shape of the bedroom door. Time to get up. Carefully sliding out of bed, and cursing the creak of the stair gate, I tiptoed down the stairs trying to make as little noise as possible to avoid waking the kids. Downstairs to the stash of clothes I had left on the sofa the previous evening, and into the kitchen to make coffee. The kettle boiled a merry tune as I cleaned my teeth at the kitchen sink, and my mood lift as I looked out of the window into the darkness where the silhouettes of the trees revealed that the winds of the previous day had passed. The path was set. I was going surfing. Ten minutes later, I was strapping my board onto the roof rack. I could feel an ache in my back as I tightened the rack straps, as if to remind me that I was 44 not 24; and that I am a Surfer Dad.
What is a Surfer Dad? According to my wife it is someone (presumably male and with children) who is always talking about surfing, but whose wave riding seems, so often, to be inhibited by the challenges of being a parent. Someone who looks back at those halcyon days of chasing the swells of their youth and spending whole days at the beach. Someone who makes plans that are usually scuppered by the responsibilities of parenthood; but moreover someone who never ceases to chase the dream of boosting an air reverse even though the chances of that happening are, being entirely realistic, zero.
Thinking back to years BC (Before Children) I was in an ideal position to surf. As a teacher I could look forward to the long summer holidays and plenty of water time. Then that fateful day came when as my girlfriend showed me the thin blue line that meant our lives would be changed irrevocably for the better. Children came along. The changes both to my lifestyle and to me a person were far greater than I would have ever thought possible.
If you don’t have kids close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine what it is like. Now open them. Whatever you thought, you were wrong! It is both better than you could possibly imagine, and harder than you can imagine. As the demands of the children grow, surfing becomes drops down the priority list, but for a Surfer Dad, thinking about surfing is ever present. Weekend family time soon cuts into surfing time. Sessions on those clean glassy days are cut short to make the dash to the nursery to pick up the kids. Concessions made for the opportunity to skip off the beach to shoot the curl.
Invariably as a Surfer Dad I endeavour to clock up as many Brownie points as possible with my other half. Taking the children into nursery, picking them up, doing the shopping, cleaning, washing and cooking. You know the sort of thing. A bunch of flowers might be a good idea. “No darling you put your feet up, I’ll take them to the park” always goes down well. Offering to stay in and baby-sit an evening is my favourite, so she gets to go out with the girls whilst I stay home holding the fort, surf DVD on, all in the hope of hearing those sweet words “Why don’t you go surfing at the weekend?” Unfortunately when I do cash in the favours, the vagaries of the weather often mean that by the time weekend comes, the swell has passed, or it’s too stormy.
The darkness of the winter is probably the worst time for Surfer Dads. Robbed for the opportunity of water time while the little ones sleep, despair can set in as weekends come and go. This year it has been particularly bad. As the dark evenings approached, and the winter swells kicked in, so did the cold weather. Icy roads, then Christmas outings, and finally swine ‘flu all scuppering my plans. When the drought was eventually cleared one head-high stormy day in January, weeks out of the water showed. After each paddle out I sat there in the line-up, all wrapped up in 5 mm of rubber, exhausted and barely able to paddle for a wave. After suffering the indignity of going over the falls for what seemed like the hundredth time, it felt like I had been learning to surf for seven minutes rather than seven years. But, as a Surfer Dad, this only motivated me more.
What to do? First thing is to get fit. Those resistance bands for exercising paddle muscles, mostly used by my son to tie up his sister is reclaimed and I order them to stop kicking the Swiss Ball around the lounge. A balance board might be the closest thing I can get to surfing daily, and at least the local pool is open when I can’t get in the surf so that’s the place to be.
As the evenings get lighter approach, Surfer Dad’s throughout the country will find their mood lifting as they think about the joy of riding one footers on the log as the sun sets. Any wave is, after all a wave! Fantasy Surfer has started up and becomes a thing of obsession, the surf DVDs are put on continuously as the opportunity to snatch water time is drawn out by the changing of the clocks. Winter was tough, but summer is coming!
For me the joy of surfing is what keeps me going through the dark months, and the prospect of watching my own children’s faces as they ride their first proper waves is something I cannot wait to see. Being a surfer can be tough. Being a Dad is tough, but being a Surfer Dad is a privilege. To all other Surfer Dads out there, I salute you.