There have to be safer ways to cope with a lay-off

Mack sat on the sand thirty yards away from the rest of the members on their private beach. They all seemed content to lounge under carnival striped umbrellas, their warm, dry toes just out of reach of the five-foot waves rolling off Lake Michigan. Not Mack. The twenty-five mile an hour Southwest wind ruffled his thinning black hair graying over ears and down sideburns. Fifteen years ago, he would have already been running the nose of his sailboard over the foaming froth and hopping on in the window of flat water between breakers before hefting the sail to vertical snagging the violent, driving wind. Now, he just sat, considering.

Considering how he had, just last week, been ‘downsized’ from his thirty-year job. No excuse offered. ‘Realigning resources’ was all they said. And now at fifty-seven he was literally beached. Feeling humiliated, floundering, forced to getting back out there—mailing resumes, suiting-up for interviews. As if he hadn’t paid his dues. The folks down the beach knew about his situation. They knew everything. They left him alone to conjoin his roiling thoughts with the roiling waves.

But they didn’t know what he was really considering…whether he should jump on his board and shred those waves. It was dangerous. He didn’t have his flotation device. Nor the harness rig to help muscle his 9.2 sail in a serious blow. Still. He focused and fumed feeling the need, the determination, building from the soles of his feet. “Yes!” he finally shouted out loud.

He grabbed the foot strap at the end of the board with his right hand, the boom with his left, and waited at the waterline for the exact moment to launch a beach start. He ran, hopped aboard, barely balancing when the next wave rocked him skyward. Grabbing the boom with both hands, he bent his knees and leaned back to brace for the hammer force that would fill the sail and drive him past the sand bar and the coiling wall of surf just ahead.

Knees bent, he created a triangle from his hands on the boom to his feet in the straps. He skimmed over the top of waves slapping the gap between crests. Rooster tail sprouting behind, he stomped on the pedal to raise the dagger-board-keel and used his feet and weight to pressure the outer edges like a surfer pumping the ‘rails’ to steer.

Soon the beach was a thin line, half a mile back. His arms burned, his feet were numb from pressing down on the deck. Time to turn. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do his normal duck jibe, so he leaned on the starboard rail to ‘come about’ with the help of the following waves. Partly through the 180, he jumped off, dropping the sail downwind, the board aimed toward shore. He watched it buck from underwater before he surfaced and stroked hard to catch up. He hung on for three waves, catching his breath before bracing for a pull-up and laying out along the board. At water level, it seemed like he was in a thrashing, churning washing machine. So far so good, he thought. One more minute.

At the peak of a rising roller, he caught a glimpse of the beach, the folks standing and watching, probably his wife and daughters among them, wondering if he was okay, was going to make it back. He waved, lay still a while longer. Then centering his energy, he straddled the mast in a deep crouch, reached as far as he could on the up-haul rope, leaned back and slowly rose, using his leg muscles to suck the sail from the surface tension and wind hugging it to the water. Once the sail came free, he quickly dropped it straight down in the drink. He waited a moment for a wave to roll past. In the valley, he yanked the mast to vertical, grabbed the boom, tilted it slightly forward to accelerate into a roaring broad reach and rocketing ride. This time the waves pushed him in a kind of pulse, lifting and thrusting him much faster than the outbound run. The breakers over the sandbar were coming at him and could slam the board out from under him if he slowed or turned. He maintained speed, tracking head-on, until he ran-up on the gravelly shore catapulting into a rolling heap on the beach.

He lay curled for a while, breathing hard, I did…I did it…I did it. His buddy, Aaron, trotted up to him. Helped him sit up, scolded, “What were you thinking, man? Geez.”

Head down, Mack rasped, “I was thinking that it would be great…a great thing to do. And it was.” Three more breaths and he added, “Besides…I needed to. You know?”

Mack looked up. Raised an eyebrow. His buddy locked eyes, pursed his lips, nodded.

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