It’s like therapy.
When shit gets hard, I tell my problems to the ocean, share them with the waves that ebb and flow, rush in and fade out, the rough and the calm, just like life.
Sometimes I float on my board, letting the push and pull of the tide calm and soothe me. Other times, I can’t get to my feet fast enough, need that feeling of slicing through the water, of knowing I’ve managed to tame Mother Nature.
Even just for a moment.
But mostly, being in the water is a reminder of how small I am, how unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and owning a wave can only happen if I’m willing to both accept that fact and reject it at the same time.
Accept it, because I know a wave can take my life just as quickly as it forms. Reject it, because I have to truly believe in myself if there’s any chance for me to come out the other end unscathed.
There’s an indescribable rush, a connection with the earth’s energy, a sense of belonging and groundedness that I really can’t find anywhere else.
It makes me feel complete in a way nothing else does.
Of course, I didn’t always feel like this about the ocean.
I remember the first time my dad put a board in my hands: a five-foot, Liquid Shredder Softboard. He was on one of his random visits, and I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old at the time. I just remember thinking to myself how absolutely terrified I was, and that there was no way I would ever take it out into the water.
I grew up next to the beach, mere feet from the sand my entire life, but up until that point, I’d always been a bit intimidated—more than a little afraid.
On the rare occasions my mom wanted to go down to the water, we’d take a basket of toys for me and a chair and a book for her. She’d read and drink vodka while I got knocked on my ass and my bucket and shovel got sucked out into the water.
I wasn’t a big fan.
Then my dad, this guy I barely knew and who had only ever been to town to visit me a few times…he wanted me to stand on a board in that big mess of waves?
But he was surprisingly patient with me, moved really slowly. For the entire week he was visiting, he never pushed me to go out into the water when I didn’t feel ready.
The day before he left town, I told him I wanted to try it out, for real, not just standing on a board in the sand.
It would be great if this story had some beautiful moment that included me managing to stand by the end of the day, making my dad proud, something that bonded us together for the rest of our lives.
Unfortunately, that just wasn’t in the cards. I couldn’t manage to get on my feet. The entire day, I felt a little lost, a little out of control, and it made me so angry.
I stood next to him with tears in my eyes as he loaded up his car and said goodbye the following morning, wishing I’d been good enough to make him stay.
Then he knelt down in front of me and told me to keep practicing so maybe the next time he came to see me, we could surf together.
Of course, the first thing I did once he was gone was beg my mom to sign me up for surf lessons. I wanted to be able to stand up on the board the next time he visited.
There’s a professional surf academy in the South Bay, and within a few weeks, I was booked in for daily private lessons.
My instructor’s name was Fetu, and he was this big, broad-shouldered Samoan with tribal tattoos and long dark hair. His family had lived in Hawaii for years before he moved to California for love.
He’s a surf coach now—mine, actually—but he’s still the same Fetu, always throwing out a shaka and a “Howzit, bro?” to the other locals and surfers when he’s around town.
That summer, we met for weeks before there was any sign of improvement on my part. His biggest critique of my failures had to do with my desire to be in control.
“You have to feel the essence of it and then roll along that flow,” he told me.
I just remember scratching my head, not really getting what he meant at all and thinking Fetu might have taken one too many faceplants into the sandy shore. I’m sure what he said made sense, but I was a kid and couldn’t really put it to good use.
We were floating in the ocean, me lying exhausted on the board, facing the sky, feeling the beginning prickle of tears at the backs of my eyes, certain I’d never be able to do it, sure my dad would come to town again and I’d still suck.
Fetu stood next to me, trying to give me words of wisdom and advice. And then, he finally said something that clicked with me.
“You know how when you’re upset and you want to cry because you didn’t get something you wanted, your entire body seizes up? You clench your fists and your face and you get loud and angry?”
“The wave is the opposite. It rolls in its own time, and you can either flow with it or get knocked over. The most important thing is that you relax.” He grinned. “Enjoy the ride as long as you can.”
Then he started setting me up for the next wave that was forming off in the distance. I tried to remember that being tense and frustrated and angry wasn’t going to make me better.
When that wave finally came, I paddled with it, started in that forward motion, and something clicked. Something in my chest felt like it recognized the wave in a different way.
Up I went, onto my feet. My timing was perfect. The smile stretching across my face was massive.
I finally let the wave be the wave, and she took me up with her. It was amazing.
Of course, only a few seconds into it I totally bombed out. I fell forward onto the board and split my eyebrow open. Had to get a few stitches and couldn’t go into the water for a week.
My mom was pissed—called the academy, threatened to sue, even though she’d signed off on a waiver absolving them of responsibility because—duh—surfing is a dangerous sport.
It was too late, though.
Just that one wave, and I was hooked.
The feeling I’d had when I stood on that board for the first time… Even now, nearly twenty years later, it’s a feeling I try to recreate each time I slice through the water. The pure joy, the ability to let go and just be…it was incredible.
The next time my dad came to town, we took our boards out and surfed together.
It was a strange feeling, wanting to make someone proud. I’d never had that before.
Definitely not with my mom, who worked all the time and usually left me with the nanny. I mean, she did the best she could with the hand she was dealt. She’d never really wanted a kid, but when she got pregnant with me, she also didn’t want to not have me.
So, I lived in limbo.
Technically I had a ‘family’—if you can call my mom and dad that with how rarely I saw her and how infrequent his visits were—but I lived most of my childhood alone.
Well, not alone, I guess.
I always had the waves.
They were there to listen when life got too hard.
“Dude, are you even listening to me?”
I look over to where Otto is floating on a board next to mine and shake my head.
“Sorry, man. Got distracted.”
He rolls his eyes. “I said I’m gonna head in. You coming?”
I nod and wave him on. “Go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”
He throws up a shaka and starts to paddle off, but I only watch him for a few seconds before my eyes drift away from his form and focus on the coastline in the distance.
To the homes that stretch along the ocean’s edge and make up a small portion of the South Bay.
I love this town.
Hermosa Beach has been my home for my entire life.
I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling, see a lot of places, go on some really amazing adventures—but nothing has ever made me feel the way being here does.
I mean, I understand why people leave. There’s a great big world out there, ready to be explored and loved and shared and lived in, and I like exploring it, too.
In the spring, I was a guest judge at a teen surf competition in Japan that my sponsor sent me to. I did an exhibition, judged the heats, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. The organizers took me out for some delicious food and showed me a few amazing surf spots along the coast of Chiba, the area outside of Tokyo where the competition was held.
Earlier this summer, over Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few days up in Malibu at a smaller, local surfing competition. I volunteered for a bit, competed, and then Otto and I went out to the bars in the evening. We had a good time, and I was able to meet up with my girlfriend for dinner one night while I was in her neck of the woods and our schedules aligned.
Whether I’m in Japan on my own or just a few hours up the coast along the PCH with people I’ve known my whole life, I’m always ready to come home.
Maybe that makes me a pussy, but I don’t really care. I like what I like, and that includes my hometown, the place that feels the most comfortable, the most relaxed, the most familiar.
Though, recently, things have gotten a lot more complicated. The town I know and love is changing, sure. That’s just what happens no matter where you live, and you can roll with the wave, ride it, or let it slam right into you.
Unfortunately, a little wave of my own making has decided to take me on a ride outside of my comfort zone.
My sister Hannah moved in with me at the beginning of the summer. A sweet thing from Phoenix, she left her life behind to try something new. Things were going well—I thought—until she found out I’d been lying to her, withholding a secret that threatened the tentative relationship we’ve been building.
Thankfully, it seems like she’s forgiven me.
Well, maybe forgive is a strong word. I know she won’t be forgetting what I did—what Wyatt and I did—any time soon, but at least she’s staying.
God, I’m so glad she’s staying.
Truthfully, I haven’t been a very good brother so far. When I first found out about her, back when we were in high school, I pretended she didn’t exist, opting to do what felt easiest for me and my life. Then I contacted her only once I wanted something, though I didn’t tell her that. And when she finally got here, expecting to build a relationship with a brother she never knew…well, I let her down.
But now I have another chance, thankfully, another opportunity to show her I can be a good big brother and continue to prove to her that she belongs here.
Just like that time when I was a kid trying to stand up on my board, I don’t give up easily. Having my sister here, living with me…it feels right, and I don’t want to lose that again.
The happiness she brings to my world.
The relationship we’re starting to slowly build.
Learning to surf taught me important lessons about how I should approach the world, and having Hannah here is teaching me about how I should approach relationships and family.
I’ve never really had that before.
Now that she’s probably also going to be giving Wyatt a second chance, too, I’ll be learning what it’s like to be a big brother when your sister is dating your friend.
Now that is a lesson I’m not looking forward to.
With the summer halfway over and my upcoming training before surf season begins, I know figuring out how to shift my schedule around to make sure she’s a priority is going to start getting complicated.
It’s days like today that make me feel like I have no idea how to be an adult, because all I want to do is just keep floating in the ocean instead of paddling in and dealing with the shitstorm I created myself.
My eyes flit over to where Otto stands alone on the shore near the lifeguard tower.
I wave to indicate I’m heading in, resigned to the fact that my time in the ocean is done for the day.
Even though I’d like a little bit longer, just for me, the sun is starting to dip in the sky, and I know Hannah will be back from work soon.
If I’m going to make changes, it has to start now.
“I’m telling you right now, I don’t care who the girl is—I’m never gonna dance like an asshole with my friends just so I can get laid.”
Hannah bursts into laughter and I follow suit, my stomach still aching from our earlier amusement at the bird mating performances we’ve been watching on Our Planet.
“Oh, come on,” she says, her hands resting on her middle as she fights to calm herself. “I can so picture you, Wyatt, and Otto dressed in those barbershop quartet outfits and putting on a show.”
She mimics lifting a boater hat on and off her head a few times as I continue to chuckle and roll my eyes.
Leaning forward, I grab my empty glass off the coffee table. “Not a chance in hell,” I say, my eyes narrowing in faux displeasure. “I don’t dance. I don’t sing. I don’t put on a show.” I smirk. “Unless you count surfing, because when I’m on the waves, you know it’s entertainment.”
“I’m calling it now,” she hollers after me as I head into the kitchen. “Someday, you’re gonna use this exact method of song and dance to redeem yourself. Mark my words!”
I shake my head, refilling my glass with two fingers of the ’66 Dalmore Single Malt Otto gifted to me for my birthday earlier this year. Normally, I only pull out the good stuff for celebrations, but it just sounded perfect today, even if Hannah took a whiff and told me it smells like ass.
Glancing across the open space, I watch my sister as I take a small sip, the subtle notes of ginger and licorice coating my throat.
Hannah’s hair is still damp from the shower and she’s wearing a pair of sleep shorts and a loose shirt. I’ve seen this look on her often over the course of this summer. In the time she’s been living with me, her post-work exhaustion has regularly resulted in her immediately changing into pajamas and lazing around the house for the night.
What’s different this time is the smile on her face.
She’s been here two months, almost to the day, and she’s always had this uncertain expression, especially when she thought no one was looking.
I’d see her staring at the sunset on one of the loungers outside, or sitting on the couch after work with the TV on but not even watching it. Her mind was elsewhere, thinking about something big and complicated, possibly wondering about her future or feeling worried about what’s next.
Now though? She’s been smiling all damn day, it seems like.
From the moment she and Wyatt returned from the pier this afternoon, hand in hand, she’s been nothing but teeth and cheeks and squinty eyes.
She smiled through lunch, then smiled as she told us she had to work, then smiled while she was working.
She was smiling when she got home a little while ago, and she smiled all through the episode of Our Planet we just finished, which is a little weird since it’s about global warming and has a slightly ominous tone—though the clip we just watched did have a group of birds working as a group to get their buddy laid.
Now, she sits snuggled on the couch, smiling as she messes around on her phone, likely texting with Wyatt.
I shake my head and take another sip of the Dalmore. Now that is something that will definitely take some getting used to.
Hannah and Wyatt.
If anyone had ever bet me I’d have a sister and she’d be dating one of my closest friends, I’d have told them they were fucking insane—not because of the sister thing, but because I’d never have been able to imagine one of my good friends in a serious relationship.
The good thing for me is that Wyatt has a lot to make up for, so I know Hannah is going to keep him on his toes.
He asked her what she was doing when she got off work and she told him she would be going home to relax and hang out with me. He looked a little stunned but then quickly recovered, asking when she was free so he could take her on a date.
They’re going out tomorrow, on a Monday, since she’ll be working so much this week. I can tell just how much he’s into her, because he got on the phone the minute she left the table and made a reservation at Nóstimo, the Greek restaurant that rarely has an open table and isn’t even open on Mondays.
But that’s Wyatt. He may hate the Calloway name, but it does serve him well when he wants to pull a few strings.
Hannah’s smile is probably because of the guy—even I’m not egotistical enough to believe her happiness is because of me—but I’m just glad to see it’s genuine, and persistent.
After the life she’s led, she deserves a heaping portion of happiness dumped onto her lap.
“Will you grab me some more water?” she asks, finally looking up at me and catching me staring at her. “What?” She glances around to see what I might be looking at then brings her eyes back to me.
“I’m just glad you stayed,” I reply, giving her a smile I hope is as genuine as hers.
She grins, tucks a throw pillow more snuggly into her side, and gives me a little shrug. “Well, I heard some very convincing arguments about why I should, so I figured I’d give it a shot. You know…give everyone a chance to follow through on their promises.”
“I’m sure it helps that the man of your dreams wrote you a super gushy love letter, too.”
Hannah scoffs and rolls her eyes. Then scoffs again.
I like this side of her. The playful side.
She didn’t used to tease or play or get irritated, even in jest, and it makes me happy knowing she feels comfortable doing it now, being completely herself.
It means she’s finally allowing herself to believe she belongs here.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replies as I grab a bottle out of the fridge for her. “I know of no dream man or a gushy love letter.”
I smirk, walking towards her. “Yeah, sure. That sounds truthful.”
She blushes slightly, reaching out to take the water from my hand.
“So, you guys are going out tomorrow night?” I ask, settling back in on the opposite end of the couch. It isn’t really a question since I know it’s definitely happening, but I need to be the good big brother who asks about her life, not the dick who growls about his sister’s boyfriend.
I think most guys would find it hard to walk the line between the two, but I’m a pretty laidback guy. I don’t think it’ll be too hard.
Hannah sips from her water before answering, giving me a small nod. “It’s not a problem, right?” she finally says, a hint of worry etched in her expression. “I never even…thought to ask if it was okay for me to—”
“Hannah,” I say, interrupting her. “You can date whoever the hell you want, and you never need my permission, okay? No one else gets to decide what works for you and Wyatt. Not even me.”
“I know,” she blurts, barely letting me finish, “but I don’t want to affect your friendship with him or something, especially when we’re trying to make sure—”
“You’re not,” I lie.
And it’s the easiest lie I’ll ever tell her. Obviously, my friendship with Wyatt will change somewhat now that he’s dating my sister. Hopefully, some of it changes for the better.
There will definitely be a new line in the sand, though, because no matter what, moving forward, Hannah is where my loyalty lies.
Wyatt won’t just be my friend, a guy I’ve known practically my whole life, or a partner I share a business with. He’ll be the man dating my sister, so there are new expectations, of honesty and earnestness and devotion. There are new things I’ll need to be paying attention to, even if Wyatt doesn’t realize it.
That’s not Hannah’s problem, though. And it isn’t something I want her worrying about when she has so much else on her mind.
“Trust me,” I finally say, reaching over and squeezing her hand in mine. “Wyatt and I are going to be fine.”
She nods, and I wait until her face has relaxed slightly before I sit back in my spot again.
I lift my whisky to my mouth and add, “But if I hear you two having sex, I’ll break his dick off.”
Hannah bursts into laughter, her face flushing red with embarrassment, and she presses her hands to her cheeks.
The whisky burns in my mouth and going down my throat, but I can’t help the smile on my face.