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The love of skim boarding, low-tide and fatherhood

July 27, 2016

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 27, 2016

My son, Adam, loves skim boarding. From an early age, he has been prone to concentrate on a single physical activity for a long time: building with blocks, digging holes, playing with Legos, drawing, bicycling — and now skim boarding.

He is fortunate to have access to a skim boarding paradise, near a family home by the Connecticut shore, where he has visited all of his seven summers and family has gathered for nearly 60 years. There, a sandbar — stretching up to 200 yards long and 30 wide — emerges at low tide.

I prefer mountains and forests to beach, but low tide is magical, especially when it arrives late in the day — when the sun hangs low and the crowds thin.

So when we recently arrived for the annual July 4th family gathering, learning low tide was at 2:30 p.m. that day, I smiled knowing our four-day visit would include a string of late afternoon sandbar outings.

It was about noon, and my wife, Lori, and I had barely sat down to eat before the kids had cleaned their plates, suited up, applied sun screen and collected their beach goods from the small shed out back. “We’re ready,” they implored.

Soon, my beach-loving wife headed to the shore with Adam and big sister, Zoe. I enjoyed a quiet house and the daily paper, assuring them I would soon follow.

I arrived just before dead low — the point where the tide has finished pulling back, and starts its imperceptible return. Adam threw down the shovel with which he had been digging — leaving a hole big enough to hold half-dozen kids. Grabbing his curved triangular shaped board, three times the width of his body and reaching his chest when stood on end, he began wading across the thin stretch of water that separates the shore from the sandbar, his legs excitedly pacing ahead of mine.

Adam has learned that the inner edge — the edge closest to the shore, protected from the waves that wash over the outer edge — is where to find the smooth water — and the best rides.

Adam first rode a skim board Memorial Day weekend, an experience involving equal frustration and joy, struggling to get on the board without falling, but experiencing moments of success.

The second day, after watching a seasoned local, a 20-year who lives near the shore, Adam began to develop his own technique.

He places his left hand on the upper left edge, just below the rounded tip, and his right hand on the notched tail. Focusing intently on the thin layer of water stretching beyond him, he takes three quick strides while swinging his arms back and up along his right side, then forward in one smooth motion, releasing the board across the surface of the water. As the board paces ahead, his legs speed up, taking eight steps, sometimes nine and occasionally 10, before placing his left foot below the tip of the board and, a split second later, his right foot above the tail.

Each day he stumbled back to the house to quench his thirst, satiate his ravenous hunger and eventually climb the rungs to his bunk, groaning that his legs were sore.

On the fourth day, low tide arrived after 5 p.m. Adam and I left Lori, Zoe and the cousins, who were collecting sea critters on the nub of exposed sand that first emerges as the tide pulls back. We traversed a stretch of knee-deep water before arriving at the long strip where Adam boards, just ahead of dead low. The water at the crest of the sandbar did not quite cover the tops of my feet, leaving an expanse of clear, shallow water, sparkling all the way to the horizon.

For nearly two hours, Adam threw, chased and rode his board, possibly 100 times, though I stopped counting at 50. After an especially smooth ride, or the occasional fall, Adam’s eyes would find mine. We acknowledged each other, sometimes chatted for a moment. Then, he would lift his board, set his gaze and start running.

As we shared the experience, I recognized in Adam an unwavering determination and the pure joy — his and mine — that flowed from his efforts. I wondered how I might support him, in the years ahead — when the world pushes hard against him — and in what ways he might apply his determined nature. I wondered how long Adam might love skim boarding.

But mostly, with the sandbar shrinking and the sun slipping lower, I was simply grateful to be his father.

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