Confessions of an Ocean Wife
By Rachel Abrams
The Internet introduced us, but the ocean will decide if we stay together. I met my husband online nine years ago, and ever since, our life as a couple has been governed by good swells, low pressure, and light, offshore winds.
For our first date, we met at Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in Sag Harbor, the weathered sea shack with sloping floors and a sign near the bathroom that reads: “Beware: Pickpockets and Loose Women.” I was in Amagansett visiting a friend; he was out east surfing, where he traveled with his family and then on his own as often as possible since he was a boy. He began surfing in his late teens, and quickly, it became an obsession.
Early in our courtship, unaware of the conflicts to come, I embraced the sport in an effort to appear adventurous, letting him give me a lesson in the cold (to me) September Atlantic. He complimented my balance when I attempted to stand, but by the end, I limped and coughed my way out, my inner thigh scraped from the board, sand in my mouth, eyes stinging from the salty water. I grew up in theMidwest; my husband was raised on the coast. I’m lake; he’s ocean. I tread; he swims.
In hindsight, I was naïve to treat surfing as a hobby like running or racquetball—riding waves is less pastime, more pursuit-turned-passion-turned-addiction. There’s a dependency on outside factors—weather, jetties, other surfers—that is unlike other sports. Surfers are in perpetual search of clean conditions, but will take what they can just to get in the water. My husband is the type of person who perks up at the mention of an approaching hurricane.
Surfing takes extraordinary time and energy. There’s not just the pre-ritual of waxing the board and strapping it to the roof of the car, there’s the effort to assess whether it’s worth going in. Driving out east, we pass a flag onMontauk Highway, snapping and waving wildly. “Terrible winds,” my husband mumbles, shaking his head, his body hunched and dispirited like that of a man viewing a flag at half-mast after a national catastrophe. But he doesn’t dismiss the day yet. There’s still surfline.com and the beach cam at Main Beach Surf + Sport to check, and the hotlines to call. When those sources prove unsatisfactory, he dials a local surfing buddy for an oral report, then drives to the water to converse with the waves.
In the beginning, our travels out east were romantic. While he’d surf, I’d take photos, read, or do yoga on the beach. I tried to match my rhythm to his. But soon it felt like an obligation. I missed my city routine and begrudged the fact that if I wanted to be together on the weekend, I had to stick to him like Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax on a board. When I suggested we alternate weekends in the city and out east, he looked at me like I just revealed I was a man.
We tried various arrangements: a paid subscription to an advanced satellite weather forecast service; his going for a night, then returning for a date on Saturday. Years passed in this fashion, and when we got married and bought a house inSag Harborjust blocks from where we met, I pledged my allegiance to this lifestyle officially. But then we decided to have a kid.
At first, we attempted to conceive casually, but soon it became a timed and calculated endeavor. Each morning I assessed fertility, praying I wouldn’t turn fertile as the tides turned good. “You may need to stay here this weekend,” I’d say, trying not to sound desperate.
“You come out!” he exclaimed. On weekends I joined, he left when he finished work on Friday, then I’d train out that night. Though I grew to like the time and transition of the railroad, it felt like a chase. I disembarked the LIRR, spotted his surfboard atop the roof of the car resting inches above his head. He was content and serene, just off a sunset wave, while I, still riled from the city and elevated hormones, ran towards him waving my pink ovulation wand.