A Surfer’s Paradise

It’s hard to let our children grow up and become independent adults. We’ve loved them, nurtured them, and taught them everything we know about being an adult. But then comes the day, that dreaded day when we have to let go. Thank you, Ed Kaufman for this story.


Ulu Watu, Bali, Summer 2011

By Ed Kaufman

My son Adam, now seventeen, paddles into a treacherous cave, emerging from the mouth of the grotto into perfectly shaped fifteen- foot waves. My wife Karen and I scurry up steep, narrow steps to see him catch his first wave. Our upward climb takes us through a myriad of surf shops, sarong hawkers, photographers and restaurants. We reach the platform with the clearest view of the action just in time for Adam to emerge from the cavern. A piece of black duct tape dangles from the front of his board where he has patched a recent ding. A muscular older man approaches Adam kneeling on the remaining half of his trashed board. He takes in Adam’s patchy repair job and communicates to Adam that his board will also soon be trashed. I realize this is a definite possibility, particularly having seen so many broken boards waiting to be fixed at the shops along the cliff. I’m relieved that Karen doesn’t see the struggling surfer paddle past Adam.

Karen and I settle into white plastic chairs in the shadiest spot available. I look around before I search for Adam with the aid of my binoculars. To our left are many simple bungalows, older women offering massages, cafes, viewing spots and cameramen with elongated telephoto lenses. About a mile in that direction is the monkey-laden Ulu Watu Temple, home of the trance-like kecak singers.  To the right, trinket stores, restaurants and retreats stretch up the hillside. Somewhere up there is the luxurious Bulgari Resort, advertising a three night Christmas Special for only $6700 a couple. At least it includes a Bulgari wristwatch.

I searched below the steep dramatic cliffs for Adam among the many surfers attempting to master the seven superb breaks that stretch across the horizon. I spotted Adam easily with the aid of my binos. Although the waves were up to fifteen feet that day, he limited himself to those less than ten feet. He surfed exquisitely, astride his board like a ballet dancer, getting more than his share of long smooth waves with multiple cuts and snap turns as I call them. He said later,“Those are just hits, Dad. Don’t be a kook!”

The following day, Adam surfed the precarious break at Bingin. Only a few inches of water separated him from sharp coral. When he emerged, toes bloodied and board shredded, he grinned and howled, “This is the real Indo.” Instead of poking fun at my clumsiness, he guided me over the spiky coral on the beach.

Our last day, Ulu was over twenty feet high, so Adam surfed the smaller waves of Sanur.  He lifted his hand so I could be sure to video his best waves. I knew I was feeding his self-centeredness, but at least he was not ignoring me. That night we moved to a one-bedroom studio with a cot for Adam. We placed his bed next to ours and not in the living room. Karen and I realized this might be the last time our seventeen year old would sleep in the same room with us. For a brief moment, he felt like our sweet little boy again.

4 thoughts on “A Surfer’s Paradise

  1. Stars Fall On My Heart says:

    Ed: I don’t know if we’ve met (online or real life) but in case we haven’t I’m Stefanie =) Ok, now down to business.

    What your wife and you experienced was a relatively gentle revelation: the young man braving the waves is no longer the little infant that cooed up at you from his crib. This revelation did not come about via fights over whether or not he was responsible enough to take the car or what he wants to do with his life. Instead, you got to watch him envelope himself in the waves, aware of the dangers but judging them to be worth the risk and the thrill. And instead of another fight over something trivial like his cell phone bill, your response to this revelation was to savor one last moment with the man who used to be a child. 
    Even though it must have hurt to realize that the the dawn of his adult life means the twilight of the childhood he spent with you, from what I can gather, you obviously raised a boy to become a man who savors the waves and has the ability to face nature and whatever consequences that may follow. While it is a moment of grief, it is also a moment of pride: all of the work you put into your son has given you a return of a brave, self-assured man. And I wonder if he watched your wife and you across the room, missing you as much as you must miss him.

  2. Derek says:

    Our lives are a series of moments and, if we catch the light just so, a collection of gems – like this one. And, having put it down on paper, it’ll be ready and waiting for your son when he’s old enough to appreciate both perspectives.

  3. Michael Stang says:

    Your story runs like a warm list of cherished memories.  I was awestruck by the devotion of a watchful dad and could take in the scenery of Bali.  Thank you for sharing this, you write so well.

  4. KYLE says:

    So, is he goofy foot? Sounds like he’s ‘been mimicking Kelly Slater. Just watched the Hurley pro.  Such a lesson in surfing.You dance with nature, gathering confidence with each, off the lip,cut back, floater or bottom turn. Mother nature can turn on you in a matter of seconds. A surfer respects that aspect and lives life with the same philosophy. “Riding Maverick” still swells in my head. The lessons of the ocean and our connection to the powerful force of the natural world…just is. Because you and your wife know what it’s like to be in the moment of glory. To watch your son in his moment, his growth must have been pure spirit of this family’s quest. Your powerful scene driven story placed me right in the action and internal love. The day my 12 year old son chooses to ride the big waves at Mavericks…I hope I’m brave enough to let him go. As if I have a choice. I’ve always wanted to go to Bali.  Just a thought. 

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