Brighten their holiday. Enrich their everyday.Give The Atlantic


David Ryan is a boat builder, USCG licensed master captain, and a sometimes writer and filmmaker. He is the owner and skipper of Sailing Montauk and chief builder at The Montauk Catamaran Company. You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

My sister, writing about our father:

My father hails from Jersey City, 1930s. It was a rough place, from what I can tell. He learned to swim in the Hudson River, jumping off the docks across from New York City. His parents were Irish immigrants, neither of whom had the opportunity to complete high school. But they took raising their boys seriously, and all four became "white collar professionals" with graduate degrees or better. This is to say, they worked hard. They pushed. And each of the four children put himself in a position to have some choice.

My father's choice was to surf. Soon as he was able, he ventured west, made certain professional and economic sacrifices, all so that, at day's end, he could immerse himself in the cold California Pacific to catch waves. Like the surfer-musicians at San Onofre*, he put oceanophilia at the center of our family life, and in so doing, adjoined our lives to a particular and burgeoning culture.

When I was a boy, before my sister was born, when the Santa Ana winds would blow, my mother would take me down to the beach for something special. I still remember standing on the shore; the hot, dry offshore wind whipping up the sand, stinging my skin and blowing in the my eyes.

But the wind would also blow the waves down, the Pacific Ocean that my father came to California to surf made like flat a mill pond.

My mother would take my hand and we'd wade out.

When the water got deep enough she'd begin to swim, with me on her back, like I was riding a dolphin.

Once we got out to where it was overhead there were fish: schools of grunion flashing silver in the mid-depth, shovel-nosed guitar fish and leopard sharks on the sandy bottom.

It was magic, and it still is.**

*My sister Gail is an ethnomusicologist and for the last several years has been recording the music and oral history of The Bamboo Room at San Onofre beach in Southern California.

** See also James Sturtz' excellent account of free diving in Hawaii, Waiting to Exhale elsewhere on this site.