Riding the waves with my father at the Jersey Shore, I feel seaweed wrapping around my legs and taste the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean. I am eight years old, and I love the ocean smell and the glaring hot sun.
My mother is back on the beach on a blanket with my toddler sister, who cannot yet swim well enough to body-surf. My mother prefers swimming pools to the ocean, in any case. She does not enjoy the unpredictability of the waves.
The ocean is cold at first. I hesitate, but I want to prove to my father that I am brave. We walk out to our waists and maybe our shoulders, and when a wave comes we swim with it and let it take us back into the beach.
I catch a strong wave, ride it in, and let it turn me over and over. I swallow some seawater. This ride is rough, and my body is scraped by gritty sand and pieces of seashell. I finally get my bearings and catch my breath and stand up, but I don’t see my father. I have a moment of panic. When my father finds me, I am vomiting seawater onto the sand. He makes sure I am OK, sits with me a moment, and as we walk back to the blanket, tells me not to tell my mother.