I was at the beach yesterday, standing waist-deep in the water and watching the surf roll in. I had my eyes trained a hundred yards out, reading the waves and waiting for the best one so I could body-surf back to shore.
As each wave approached I evaluated it. How big was it? When was it going to break? These were my two most important criteria. If it broke too early, it would be ideal for someone a little further out, but I wouldn't get the same push from it. If it broke too late those closer to shore would get a great ride but I would be left behind, floating in its wake. The small waves were great for the kids, but I wanted a big wave.
Some of the big waves broke at the right distance, but I didn't ride them. You see, a wave doesn't span the whole beach; one wave is roughly twenty yards wide. It has an arc, and it breaks best in the center. If you are too far to the side it breaks later and smaller. Some waves had a perfect arc for the people to my left or right, they just weren't right for me, so I let them pass on by.
I looked out into the ocean and kept reading. Earlier in the day I had read the waves from afar - I used the tide clock. The peak of low tide was the perfect time to go for a run, the long expanse of hard-packed sand made for an ideal track. But at high tide, there was no room to run. As the ocean pushed its way on shore the waves got bigger, and the beach, in turn, got smaller.
I kept reading the waves. A big one came at me. It had a perfect arc, was just the right size, and I was right in front of the break point. I turned and swam and water bubbled around me as the wave pushed me. I accelerated until my belly scraped the sand and drug me to a halt. I stood and looked back toward the ocean. More big waves on the way. I ran back out and caught three more good rides before the surf settled back down. Then I waited for the next round. A few minutes the big waves returned. The waves come in waves, you know.
My kids played in the waves, too. My older son was on his boogie board. He wanted to ride the bigger waves. He could stay on the board but he needed help getting started, so I held him steady and launched him out on some huge waves. My younger son couldn't hold on to the board on those waves, though. He kept flipping over. I let him climb onto my back and he held onto my neck and rode the biggest waves with me, and I launched him solo onto some smaller waves.
I think back on all the waves I didn't ride. They weren't bad waves, they just weren't right for me for where I was at that moment in time. I could have moved up or back or left or right, and I could have enjoyed the other waves, but then I would have missed the waves I did ride.
And I'm going back to the beach tomorrow. I'm sure I'll ride more waves. I might build a sand castle, and then sit back watch the advancing waves slowly knock it down. That's a long, slow read.