In a previous entry, I mentioned spending a good deal of my youth at the beach collecting unfriendly UV rays and skimboarding. But what, you ask, is skimboarding?
Think of it as surfing in reverse. You have a board roughly the shape of a small but thin surf board with a flat bottom and no fin. Definitely no fin. You start on the dry beach and run at an angle into the oncoming waves. You then drop the skimboard you’re carrying on the thin layer of water left by the receding waves, jump onto the board, hydroplane into the oncoming wave which you then catch and ride back into shore.
Why do you need to know this and what does skimboarding have to do with meaningful travel? Meaning is relative and for me, skimboarding carries with it many associations from the past. These include all the times I spent with one of my best friends in college, Jim, down at Aliso Beach in Laguna. Jim basically taught me skimboarding at Aliso. So it’s hard for me to think of the sport anywhere that doesn’t have a long, sloped, sandy beach with waves that break perfectly within twenty feet of the shore.
Thus, when my son Sumner mentioned he’d gone skimboarding for the first time with some friends up here in the Seattle area, I let out a sound not dissimilar to a muffled hairball cough.
“There are no beaches – real beaches – here. “ I objected. “Only rocky shoreline.”
“No, Dad,“ my soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old informed me. “We found a beach that, when the tide is out, it’s all sand.”
Those words led to us liberating my old skimboard from its twenty years of storage and heading with Sumner and my almost-thirteen-year-old son Connor to a state beach about a half hour south of Seattle.
We arrived at the beach on one of the last days of summer. We trudged my board and one borrowed from a neighbor the half mile up the shore to the coveted sandy spot. And then, in what to me seemed like the most unlikely place to skimboard, my past and my future came together in a moment of pure presence.
This wasn’t skimboarding as I knew it. This wasn’t even the ocean. It’s the Puget Sound. If a boat passes by offshore, the “waves” might reach a whopping fourteen inches as opposed to their normal five inch swells that hit the beach with all the force of a stifled yawn. So on one level, all we really did was run, throw down the board, jump on it and ride over the water until we sank under lost momentum. No wave cuts, no aerials, no trick turns.
Very few things this day matched my past experience with skimboarding. I wondered what Jim would think of all this. Then I remembered that he too is now a dad. And somehow I knew that Jim would understand.
He would realize, as I ultimately did, that this day wasn’t about skimboarding. Or actually, it was, but not in the way I expected. I did experience the familiar run, drop, jump and ride of the board on water. But I did so in a different place geographically and also in a different place in my life. And that made all the difference.
I probably had a more meaningful time here – in a spot I would have considered pathetic back in college – than if I had gone back to Aliso Beach today with Jim. There, we’d be trying to reclaim lost youth. Here, I was able to celebrate the youth of my children.
Thus, by the time the boys and I headed back to the car, it wasn’t our goofy, deeply satisfied grins that gave away the wonder of this day. Nor was it the nicked shins or sand-worn toes that united us. It was the realization that we shared more today than common DNA. We shared an adventure, a right of passage that none of us needed to put into words but that we all understood as significant.
I hadn’t gone looking for anything meaningful this day nor would I have expected to find it where and how we did. But that’s what makes travel – even a trip a half hour from our house – so special: We often find what matters most when we’re out looking for something else.