“Did Sonny finish your board?” Mom asked, as I opened the front door.
“Oh, yeah, nothing special,” I replied, hurrying to my room.
I slipped the board into my closet, hoping nobody would see it. As I re-entered the front room, Tim was at the door.
“Get your skateboard, Billy-Boy,” Tim said, as I opened the door, “and the sheet from your bed.”
“What?” I replied, confused by his request.
“Come on. We’re going to ride some asphalt today.”
“But aren’t you still mad at me for what I did to your dad’s boat?”
“Ah, forget it.”
I turned and headed to my room. After I stripped the top sheet off my bed, I grabbed my skateboard. Then I followed Tim to the supermarket parking lot. The wind was really howling now.
“The hurricane that’s been off Haiti is moving our way,” Tim said.
“So why are we skateboarding?” I replied. “Shouldn’t we be surfing?”
“Don’t worry, they’ll be time for that.”
I watched as Tim tucked a corner of the bed sheet under his front foot, which was resting on his skateboard. Then, holding either side of the sheet, he spread his arms as wide as he could. When the wind caught the sheet, it inflated it like a sail. Tim took off, slowly at first, then faster and faster.
“Bonsai!” Tim yelled, pretending the he was a big-wave surfer screaming down a twenty-foot wave. Shoppers coming out of the supermarket stopped to watch.
Then I dropped my board and did the same thing.
“Bonsai!” I screamed as my skateboard zoomed across the parking lot.
We crisscrossed the parking lot on our skateboards for almost an hour until we sat down exhausted on the edge of the curb.
“Man, that was fun,” I said, winded.
“Yeah, now let’s grab our surfboards.”
“Surfboard?” I gasped.
“Yeah, the waves must be really big by now,” Tim replied, getting up. “Meet me at the pier in half an hour. This is going to be fun.”
Fun? I thought. Sure, wait till everyone sees my surfboard.
When I got home, Diane was in the front room leafing through a magazine.
“Is Mom home?” I asked, as I rushed by her.
“Nope, out shopping,” replied Diane, closing the magazine. “Getting supplies in case the hurricane hits full force.”
I disappeared into my room and grabbed my surfboard. As I retraced my steps through the house, Diane looked up, “What’s that?”
“Ah, my surfboard,” I stammered.
“Surfboard?” she repeated. “Sure it’s not a….”
“Hey, lay off,” I snapped, before she could finish her thought.
“You’re not going surfing now, are you?” Sue asked, as she entered the front room. The wind was blowing hard from the southeast, rattling the windows.
“I don’t think Mom would want you surfing,” Diane interjected, “especially with a hurricane heading this way.”
“Look, it’s not going to hit for another twenty-four hours,” I said, repeating what Tim had told me.
“I’ll be fine,” I said, as I ran out the door.
As I approached the pier, I could see Tim and several other surfers gathered at the water’s edge, studying the waves.
“Hey, what’s that?” Tim asked, as I got closer.
“My surfboard,” I said, hesitantly.
“Where’d you get it?”
“Sonny made it for me. Well, actually, it’s my old board, which he tried to shorten, but wound up rebuilding altogether.”
“That’s your old board?” Tim replied. “The one we fixed in my garage?”
“Yeah,” I said, sheepishly.
“Hey, look at this,” another surfer blurted. “It has three skegs!”
“Three skegs!” the others echoed, laughing hysterically.
“And what’s that?” Tim exclaimed, pointing to the leather cord tied to the center skeg.
“That’s my idea,” I said, mustering up enough courage to explain. “You see, I’m always losing my board in the break when I fall, so I asked
Sonny if I could borrow Candy’s leash.”
“Candy’s leash!” Tim exclaimed, doubling over with laughter.
“Here doggie, doggie. Here doggie, doggie,” the other surfers chanted. “Here doggie, doggie.”
Now, everyone was keeling over with laughter.
I felt a burning sensation inside of me. My head throbbed. I felt like I was going to explode. But I didn’t. Instead, I slipped Candy’s leash around my ankle, picked up my board, ran into the surf, and started paddling toward the break.
The undertow ripped at my board. Gusts of wind stung my face. Spray blew off the tops of the largest waves making it hard to see. I paddled hard, crashing headfirst through the oncoming line of waves.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tim and the others trying to catch me, but I outraced them, my board gliding through the water effortlessly. To get beyond the break, I had to paddle beyond the end of the pier. I had never been out this far. This is where Jesse—Shark Man—had dropped the bloodied shark bait.
Once I got beyond the break, I sat up, surveyed the waves heading my way, swiveled, and paddled to catch the first one. I didn’t have to paddle hard or far. The wave instantly swooped me up, but just as quickly spit me out. When I surfaced, I expected to see my board tumbling all the way to the beach, but to my surprise it was bobbing around in the surf right next to me.
Candy’s leash, I thought. It worked!
I scrambled onto my board and paddled out past the break. Tim and the other surfers joined me. When the next big wave came, several of us paddled to catch it, including Tim.
Three of us caught it, but only Tim kept his balance and rode it. I could hear him screaming as he carved a path up and down the face of the wave, which must have been five or six feet tall.
“Hey, Billy-Boy,” one of Tim’s friends called, as he caught the next wave, “might as well take your board and go home. These waves are too big for it—and you!”
I glared at him, turned, and searched the horizon for the next big swell. I saw it and paddled hard to get into position. It was big, really big, pushing seven feet. I turned at the last minute and angled down the face of the wave. At the bottom, I cranked hard, but I didn’t fall. Although my board was small—and fast—it was stable, very stable, the work of three skegs underneath.
That Sonny, I thought.
At the top of the wave, I torqued my body, leaned forward, and headed back down the wave. As I looked up, I noticed several surfers paddling toward me. Tim led the pack. I rocked my board back and forth to gain speed, timing my approach to the oncoming surfers perfectly.
At the last moment I cranked a hard turn up the face of the wave, dousing Tim and the other surfers with my spray. When I looked back, all but Tim had flipped over to avoid being hit by my board.
Tim glared at me.
I glared back.
At the same time, I saw a humongous swell approaching in the distance. I quickly exited up and over the back of the wave and headed out to sea. Tim saw the swell, too, and started paddling to catch me.
That’s when we heard someone yell—Shark!
It was as if someone in a movie theater had yelled, “Fire!” Every surfer in the water stopped, sat up, swiveled, and began paddling toward the beach as hard as he could. All, that is, except for Tim and me.
Tim stopped paddling, sat up, and looked at me.
I pulled up and stared back at him.
“Well, what’s it going to be, Billy-Boy?” Tim asked, scanning the horizon. But I couldn’t tell if he was looking for the next big wave or the menacing fin of a large shark.
“What’s it going to be?” Tim repeated.
But before I could answer, someone else yelled—Shark!
Tim didn’t wait for an answer. He wheeled his board around and started paddling toward shore.
“Come on, Billy-Boy,” he shouted, “you’re crazy if you stay out here by yourself.”
By now a crowd had gathered on the pier. Mae Beth and Sonny were among it. I turned and paddled farther out, scanning the horizon.
“Come on, Billy-Boy,” Tim called after me.
But I continued to paddle until I saw it—a giant wave. It had to be pushing eight feet. I raced to meet it, struggling against the current.
By the time I got into position, I must have been thirty or forty yards beyond the end of the pier.
The massive swell peaked just as I swiveled my board around to meet it, and I took off like a cannonball. I thundered down the face of the wave, deep into the trough. Then, I leaned back and shot up to the top of the break. I could have exited over the top, but I didn’t.
Instead, I shifted my weight, crouched as low as I could, and pushed off the lip until I shot back down the wave at lightning speed. Spray blinded me, but I kept driving down the face of the wave just ahead of the break, which I could hear crashing behind me.
I corkscrewed up and down, trying to stay ahead of the crushing sound of the break behind me. That’s when I saw it—something dark and menacing, moving stealthily in the water ahead of me.
Shark! I thought.
I forced myself to stay calm, remembering what Sonny had told me about the chance of getting bit by a shark. So, instead of bailing out, and heading to shore, I cut back up to the top of the wave, then drove back down, hoping to out race the shark. But the darkness in the water stayed just ahead of me no matter what I did.
The more I looked at it, though, the less the dark mass looked like it was in the water. More like it was on the surface of the water, like a ghost, an apparition, a reflection…
The pier! I thought, looking up.
Sure enough, the pier was dead ahead, not more than thirty feet away.
The crowd on the pier had grown, and now included some of the surfers who had come to shore, including Tim. He stood next to Mae Beth and
Sonny. They were all waving at me. Were they cheering me on or waving me off? I couldn’t tell.
All I could think about was the bridge incident—Watch out, Billy-Boy! Slow down, Billy-Boy! Duck, Billy-Boy!
Clumsily, I half dove, half slipped off my board before I reached the pier. When I surfaced I realized that my board was gone. Candy’s leash had snapped under the strain of the wave. I could see my board on the other side of the pier, drifting toward the rocks of an old retaining wall.
I took a deep breath and started to swim.