By “Nantucket” Kate Hamilton Pardee // Featured in our Winter 2015-16 Issue
I am a late bloomer. Not only did I marry a diehard surfer at an older age, but I also decided to join him on his sup journey…
It all began a few years ago with a whopper of a standup board that my husband Gary—who was over the moon that I was interested in his sport—bought for me. It was wide, heavy and, well, flat as a board. In fact, one of the things that I first noticed about it was how the arches of my feet started to ache: a minor inconvenience compared to how easy it was to keep my balance on the board, and how easy it was to fall off of if I didn’t pay attention to side wakes or swell coming my way.
Here on Nantucket (the island we live on, just off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts), we like to bring the boards to the creeks—a quiet, natural destination where I slowly learned about tides, and more importantly, the direction of the breezes. As I gained my balance and my calves and feet became accustomed to standing for longer periods of time, I realized that my weakness was dealing with the force of the winds in which I often paddled.
Gary stayed with me. He was stronger and more knowledgeable. And when it came to instruction, he didn’t always know when to keep his mouth shut. The more I started to get it, the more I knew I had to learn. He liked to talk about the poor positioning of my feet just as I gained a little confidence. He was obsessed with getting me to turn and to do it more quickly. This created added havoc for me, resulting in me crankily paddling right back to the shore. To say this led to frustration for both of us would be an understatement. There is no Dr. Phil in suping.
In my second year, I was beginning to feel more secure. Gary and I even spent a little time on the south shore in the surf, where I really learned that keeping your balance is an art form. That was of course after I learned how to get past the breaking waves. It looks much easier from the beach, but through trial and error and some gulps of saltwater, and with some tips from Gary, I eventually got it. I still hadn’t caught any waves but I did make friends with some curious seals, and I loved being out on the sea.
Later that summer I decided (now having a bit more confidence) to enter a charity paddle race in the creeks. I went with my lighter surfing paddle thinking it would make me go faster, ignoring Gary’s dubious look regarding my choice. I was so proud to finally see the finish buoy approaching. When I was almost there, I asked a friend in a kayak if there were others behind me. He assured me there were. What he kindly neglected to mention was that they were the race volunteers.
Toward the end of that summer, surfing small waves was within my grasp. I was still working on getting my feet in the ‘sweet spots’ for turning, but at least I knew what I was doing wrong. Somewhere along the way I had become committed and less afraid. I became a regular at getting up for dawn patrols and checking out the swell reports. And although I may never be good at wind direction, I am starting to understand the importance of offshore winds.
Gary and I now make a spring surf trip to South Carolina every year. We’ve found our special place there. It includes shrimp nearby, a dog-friendly beach and, on the right days, clean waves that I enjoy. Gary bought me a new lighter board…it’s so much easier to carry! We still surf together and, with my new prescription sunglasses, I can clearly see the waves forming up. I also watch for Gary’s cues, whether he’s out with me or coaching from the beach. I don’t have the heart to tell him that he looks like either a symphony conductor or a traffic cop with all that waving of his hands. He knows I’m having fun. The new board was a bit tippy at first, but with practice and never hoping for perfection at my age, I am loving the ride.
One Year Later
In recent times with determined and steadfast focus, I can now say that I am really catching waves right into the shore. My new board is 9’2” and has some spunk on the waves…which Gary believes aptly describes my unwavering obsession with the sport. Having retired after 23 years as Director of Nantucket Visitor Services, I am currently enjoying an extended stay in SC. Our surf sessions at Hunting Island remain the highlight of our free and easy days. With our border collie “Moose” standing guard at the beach, Gary and I spend hours in the water. He still gives me advice, and I honestly know that he is usually correct. I know that I will never be a big-wave rider or make perfect cutbacks. But I do know that my husband and I have found something we love to do together. For us, the couple that surfs together, stays together. -Kate