Saved by Windsurfing

I couldn’t help it. I was under the effects of a powerful addiction.

In the summer of ’96, I was standing on the cusp of mid-life, the age of Duty and Responsibility. This forty-year-old father of three, owner of a dented station wagon and a serious mortgage in a staid, southern town, quit a lucrative, decorated fifteen year career as an industrial equipment sales rep. Soon after, I ended up owning and running a windsurfing shop and school here in my inland town. Why, do you ask? Addled decisions made in the throes of a mid-life crisis? You betcha! But I couldn’t help it. I was under the effects of a powerful addiction.

Now, that’s not to say I couldn’t offer understandable, reasonable explanations for my unorthodox change of course. In fact, I nursed and cultivated rationalizations for others and myself. All of my friends who had gone into management seemed miserable with their seventy-hour work weeks. As a child of the seventies, I knew better; and, besides, something in our lifestyle had to give. My third daughter was approaching two years of age. In ’92 my wife started a small company that grew like crazy, producing plenty enough income for the family, and demanding much of her. The stress of holding it all together was getting to us—parents and children, dog and cat. Something had to give. After a spate of long, soul searching, sleepless nights, it seemed logical that I should be the one to make the change. I quit my “regular” job to lend more support to the home front and, time permitting, pursue “meaningful” work part time.

Makes sense, huh? . . . The reasonable, logical sacrifices and choices of a devoted husband and family man perhaps lightly seasoned with a little mid-life angst. Well, forget that—it was the addiction that made me do it. It was the windsurfing.

Yep, I took my first lesson the summer of ’95, one year before I quit my “regular” lifestyle, and it ruined my life—at least, as most southern suburbanites define what constitutes an appropriate, successful life. Life, here at the buckle of the Bible Belt, should be serious and very busy. I had stepped far, far outside the boundaries as “they” saw it. The truth is, in my previous life, before windsurfing, I had lost my way. Let me explain….

I remember that hot, fateful day in July. My business lunch date canceled on me, so I was at lunch by myself, perusing a local community tabloid. About page eight or nine, there it was: an article about a company called Whitecap Windsurfing. I always read anything that had to do with surfing though I’ve never had the chance to pursue the sport myself. Ahhhh, surfing and windsurfing, that’s the life . . .

But, wait—this was a local company, it said! It was run by a Renee Jenkins with support from her husband Patrick. I thought, “You’re kidding me—a windsurfing professional living in Augusta, Georgia?” The article quoted her, claiming that we live fifteen minutes from the best windsurfing lake in the southeastern United States. “Are you kidding me? . . . I have more of that lake’s water in my veins than blood. Never seen any windsurfing going on there. It says she does clinics, sells equipment, organizes trips.” I was struck dumb.

I had an epiphany as I sat there in Mother Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant. My skin was crawling up my back and trying to pile up on top of my head. Was a brilliant shaft of light shining on me? Lunch was forgotten. I couldn’t get to a phone fast enough to schedule my spot in the next clinic.

I returned to my seat and I knew something had happened: I got that feeling. You know, that feeling. One is not graced with it but a precious few times in life—your first romantic kiss, that first solo drive in the family car, moving into your first apartment. It’s one of those serendipitous revelations of the beautiful, joyful potential of life! I hadn’t even seen a windsurfing rig yet, but I was already feeling sixteen years old again. I was also overcome with gratefulness. To whom? The Supreme Being of the Universe, I guess. Why has He peeked out from His mysterious veil to smile upon me this day? Getting that feeling again at thirty-nine years old tends to make one think these strange existential thoughts.

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All I had done so far was make the lesson appointment! But, you see, I was experiencing an urgent intuition that windsurfing could become a long sought after fulfillment—the vehicle to realize a dream squelched under a big heap of reality. It seems I came out of the womb with an overwhelming fascination with the ocean. At the age of self-consciousness, four or five years old, it was just there, out of nowhere. Why me? My family never even took vacations at the beach. But, in the “F” and “W” volumes of our 1960 Worldbook Encyclopedia (which we still have to this day) you can see the pages darkened on their edges by my skin oils from the countless nights my mother and I looked at the fish and whale sections. That was followed by Flipper, Treasure Island, Kon Tiki, Hornblower, Cousteau, etc., etc. And the years went by in my inland town.

Many of us later in life look back and wonder why do we not act on these internal “visions” as we grow up and consequentially choose career paths and places to live? Why did I listen to that small town “culture of expectation” that sets one on an “approved” path? Moral weakness, I guess. At the very least, I allowed my culture to convince me that certain other paths were not realistic. After all, the sea is some distance away. Anything other than the normal, expected path was not even on my radar screen through college and my twenties. But beneath the glaze of many other concerns, smoldered this ardent admiration for all things marine.

As a young adult with some freedom to do my own thing, I thought scuba diving would be the ticket. I got certified. I traveled to the Caribbean—more than a few times. It was wonderful. It put the sea right there for me. Yet, still, I could tell this was not the answer. You could see it up close, but the artificiality of the equipment exuded the truth that one could not be a real part of the elements. The desire to connect directly with the elemental ocean was strangely unfulfilled. Otherwise, life was good:  lucrative work, a great wife, happy and healthy kids, civic groups, vacations. And the years went by in my inland town.

Then, on a trip to Hawaii in ’91, this mature, hardworking father began to recognize, to sense, a glimmer of The True Path. I witnessed, for the first time in person, big-time surfing on beautiful, powerful, perfect waves. A mental connection broke through, a repressed memory: I had seen Endless Summer in its original theater release in 1963. Heck, I was only seven years old. It was spellbinding. Something deep in my true spiritual psyche had sensed it even then: surfing would be the answer—a dance folded within the arms of the wonderful sea. I remembered giving rapt attention to anything surfing oriented for several years thereafter. When the boardhead dudes in their humorous Valley-speak way tried to explain the irresistible allure of the waves, they were talking directly to me.

But I had buried this vision beneath a mountain of reality. I had dreamed of surfing like other kids dreamed of being an astronaut. I knew I had about as good a chance of shooting the curl someday as they did of walking on the moon. Forget it. Everyone can’t be in the right place at the right time. This is Augusta, Georgia . . . do honest work and for fun, play golf, fish, go hunting. . . get on with life. So the dream withered and shriveled into the realm of fantasy. Eventually, I had nearly suppressed it altogether as another adolescent dream never meant to be.

Then, in the Nineties during the middle of my life along came the article about windsurfers ripping at the lake only minutes from my home. I acted on it and it set off a cascade of events. I had to face it—it was time to grow up to what I wanted to be. I took the lesson and that was it. I decided to be a windsurfer.

I’m a windsurfer because windsurfing is surfing . . . and then some. I can sail on my big, beautiful lake right here and then hit the coast without a critical “surf’s-up” requirement. When I’m there at the sea, I now dance directly with the elements, an exalted dance held within the powerful arms of the Source: a dance of joy. Each time is a celebration—if my head is on right. It’s the connection to that Power-You-Can’t-Control when you get hooked-in, skirt the tip of the sandbar, break out into the open ocean, and feel the push of the relentless, primordial swell rising from the deep. It feels great, more than great. Webster’s Dictionary defines exaltation as “elation, spiritual delight”. That’s the word for it—exaltation. You deny something like this only at great psychological peril. I’m grateful I finally figured it out.

In ’96 I walked off the conventional path. Three years later, I decided to buy Whitecap Windsurfing from the former owner who was about to have her first baby. I became a windsurfing professional.

Do I have second thoughts about this path? Not during daylight hours, but I can be a little neurotic about it at times. The early rationalizations I gave people—career boredom, seeking new challenge in a more meaningful job, preservation of my family—I believed myself and there is something to each one. But I give up trying to explain this thing to other people. “Mid-life crisis” they whisper and cluck behind my back. You just don’t quit a career to do things like this where I come from. They say Jimmy Buffett music doesn’t really represent a philosophy one should base a life on. But I now admit the truth: I wouldn’t have quit if I hadn’t seen that article and taken that first windsurfing lesson. Childish and foolish, some might say—I’m reconciling lifetime decisions with windsurfing. What do “they” know? It’s not something I have to “get out of my system”. It’s a fulfillment; the circle has come round; another soul has found his Path; the gods are smiling.


Chuck Hardin is the father of three daughters and with the support of his loving wife Pam, has focused on sharing smiles to those who wants to try windsurfing. You can contact him for lessons at 706-860-0639 or WhitecapWS@aol.com


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by Chuck Kardin

Hardin is the father of three daughters and with the support of his loving wife Pam, has focused on sharing smiles to those who wants to try windsurfing.

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