The waves were perfect for learning to surf. Knee to waist high, soft and gentle, breaking slowly over an old flat reef now buried in fine white sand. The water was a clear turquoise so pure and bright it appeared to be the source of its own light.We sat on the sand in the shade of a sea almond tree, our gazes far out over the reef, over the glimmering turquoise, watching figures glide along the sparkling faces of peeling waves.
We had spent the morning surfing and playing in the warm water, swimming with sea turtles and telling stories. Tim, one of only a few in our group who did not surf, jumped up and declared he was going to try to catch a wave. He had never surfed before. He grabbed the longboard that had been lying in the sand and walked into the water. We all sat up to watch, excited, hopeful, in suspense.
A group of us from the Cape had come together on the island of Barbados to attend the wedding of two friends. We had traveled there to witness and support the creation of a new family. The wedding was held on the edge of the sea, on a hilltop of tall grass that rolled in sweeping waves in the wind. A hundred feet below, the ocean crashed against the rocks, the white water wearing the same orange cast as the towering clouds overhead. It’s a color, a light, that the island of Barbados creates. The same color worn by the bridesmaids. We watched our friends make a promise to one another. When they said, “I do,” and kissed, a wave of joy, love, hope, and excitement washed over us. It was a moment of shared emotion at witnessing the happiness of others we love. We stood and cheered through our tears.
Tim waded into the turquoise, pushed off into a glide, and paddled out. He got to where the waves met water shallow enough to make them break, and he waited. We all waited, too, hope bubbling in our chests. With each attempt he made, we would collectively tense, lean a few inches forward, our eyes wide, and we would cheer and scream for him. Each wave was watched closely.
Emma, an experienced surfer and teacher, could not contain herself. She jumped in the water and swam out to him. She stayed beside him in the shallow water, offering tips and encouragement on catching waves. Another missed wave, another nose dive. And then a wave came, Emma called him in, he paddled, we all sat up tall, eyes round. He jumped to his feet, faltered, caught himself, and slid along the glassy face of the wave. The beach erupted in screams and hoots and laughter. A shared joy spread through everyone on the beach seeing a loved one succeed.
After Tim caught that wave and rode along the water for the first time, Sophie, a native of the Cape, said something that struck a deep chord. She has a way of stating things with uninhibited clarity.
“I love you guys,” she said. “Surfers — you’re so supportive of each other and get so excited for one another. You’re like a big family.”
The feeling that comes from watching someone catch his first wave is of overwhelming excitement, a child-pure happiness that grows in your chest and floods through your body, driven by the pressure of its own energy. It is not unique to surfing. It comes with watching someone finally understand something they have struggled with. Seeing someone you love find fulfillment. Witnessing two people find and create love and promise to always do so. It is something we feel for those we love, for our family.