“I heard the waves are good on the West Side!” yelled a passing taxi driver. I was walking uptown with an 8-foot surfboard straddled under my arm, given to me by a monk I’d met a few minutes earlier at the Russian Turkish Bath in the East Village.
It all began while I was changing in the locker room. After relaxing in the hot sauna, a man sitting nearby asked if I was going uptown. I was.
The stranger, named John, was a monk from Seattle, Washington, who grew up in Massapequa. As I was preparing to leave, he asked me to put coins in a parking meter for him. No big deal, I thought. John didn’t want to leave the tropical bath to fill a parking meter on an unusually cold winter afternoon. I sympathized, reluctant to leave the bath myself.
I asked John what kind of car he drove and where it was parked. He told me it was a Ford. Instead I found a Jeep Cherokee parked outside. I knew it was his because of the unsecured surfboard John said was underneath his car.
He’d bought the surfboard for his brief visit to New York. I figured he was an intrepid fellow to be surfing the East Coast’s frigid winter waters. I mentioned that a good friend of mine wanted to learn how to surf.
“You can take the board and use it for as long as you want,” John said. “Just pass it on to a kid eager to learn how to surf.”
I agreed, excited by the thought of surfing during the warm summer months at West End Two, part of Jones Beach State Park.
West End Two is the kind of place populated by birds, not crowds. As a 31-year-old Italian Catholic teacher, I grew up 15 minutes from Jones Beach, in a small town called Wantagh. As a kid I rode my bike there, as a teen I took the bus and as a college student I drove. At 5-foot-4, with glasses, dark skin, and even darker features, I looked and talked nothing like the surfing stereotype, dude. The surfboard was bringing me closer to a place I loved so much. I found the beach again in New York City.
When I finally found John’s car on a crowded city block, I was surprised to see a bright orange parking ticket on the windshield. Bad karma, I thought, as I pictured John discovering it, despite the pocketful of coins he gave me (and a free surfboard). But it was for an expired inspection sticker, so I felt relieved. With only a few minutes left in the meter, I dutifully put in the pocketful of change.
The walk uptown to Penn Station from East 10th Street was a journey, as I struggled to hold the 8-foot surfboard steadily under my arm. I was practically surfing the city amid the Midtown rush-hour crowd and the strong winds.
With 10 blocks left before reaching my destination, a woman distributing fliers in front of the Whole Foods Market offered me $150 cash for the surfboard. I considered the offer for a moment. I declined, with the determination to keep my promise to John. I was a few steps away from Penn Station when a man yelled, “I think you’re lost!”
I wasn’t. I was headed home, to a place in between New York City and the welcoming waves of West End Two.
Determined not to give up the surfboard, I went to a local shop the next day to buy a leash, so I wouldn’t lose the board in the water. I then tried on at least six bathing suits in the middle of the winter, with the anticipation of July’s sweltering weather. Too anxious to wait for Mother Nature, I booked a trip to Miami in February. While surfing, I learned that the surfer dude stereotype is wrong: Surfboards are like people, they come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.
I never saw or spoke to John again, but I did start committing random acts of kindness, inspired by what John did for me. I’m not quite ready to give up the surfboard yet, but I do have a couple of old bikes in the garage. Anyone interested?
Vincenzo La Ruina is a 5th-grade teacher and freelance writer. He can be reached at West End Two with his new surfboard.