Archive for ‘Summer’

April 3, 2014

Ode to Hobie


Hobie Alter died Saturday.

Known as the Henry Ford of surfboarding, he designed the Hobie Cat, the ultra-light fiberglass catamaran that put sailing on another plane.

I first sailed one in 1969. I was just a kid, but my older cousin Lynn (who drove a powder blue Mustang and was in college) let me sail her Hobie 14. It took off like lightning on the WeWeantic River where we summered, skimming the surface like a firefly. We all cracked up on the shore when she later took it out with her dog (a black lab mutt named Bufferin) and the webbing came loose on the trampoline-style deck and she and her startled dog fell through the canvas while the boat kept sailing on.

“Leaping over a breaker in the Southern California surf,” Life magazine wrote in 1970, “this lightweight catamaran looks more like a kite on takeoff than a boat.” I didn’t realize until a few years ago that Hobie was the first name of the guy who said he wanted to make a living without wearing hard-soled shoes, and whose philosophy of designing a new boat was to take it out in screaming 30+ knot winds, see what breaks, then fix it. Unlike the more august Hinckleys, Herreshoffs, or Bertrams, the right foot of the H on his logo underscored his first name with zeal. This was a rock n’ roller at the regatta.

It turns out my father, who knew his way around boats, once met Hobie Alter. An engineer, my father moved to Southern California in the late ‘40s, where he built kayaks in his spare time. He’d take them down to Laguna Beach to launch in the surf. Those were heady days, with other guys on the beach too who loved water and woodworking and were launching surfboards they’d built in their garages. One was Hobie, who built balsa boards for his friends. But then my dad got lucky that way – he once rode the train home to Boston and sat next to a guy who told him all about the polarizing technology he was developing – it was Edwin Land, working on his first Land Camera, which became the Polaroid.

Growing up, we lived by the sea and had more boats than family members, and when I eventually moved to New York City and then western Massachusetts, I mourned my land-bound lack of boats. The gravitational pull of clanking halyards and swells of the sea are strong. Then a dozen years ago, my husband and I were walking through the Minneapolis airport – of all places – and saw this spectacle that looked like a nautical bird on display, its sail flapping at the confluence of Terminals A and B. It was a Hobie Mirage Adventure Island: part kayak, part trimaran sailboat, part paddle boat. It could be loaded on top of a car and transported anywhere.

We bought it.

My father was skeptical (it was ridiculous looking) but it sailed like the wind. We can take our Hobie wherever there is a breeze – Shaftsbury Lake in Vermont, Somes Sound in Maine, Buzzard’s Bay in Southeastern Massachusetts. Slung low in the molded cockpit, inches from the waves, you feel free and fast as you skim across the water, your leeward ama chiseling into the water while the windward one goes airborne. You surf, you sail, you sing (well, I sing), you soar – you just can’t believe your good fortune to be out on the water, so close to the water, so influenced by the wind, on such a beautiful day.

It’s a blast.

Keep sailing on, Hobie.

May 30, 2012

Sleep Away Camp

ImageI’m sending my kid away to sleep away camp this summer, and it seems a bit weird to me.

I didn’t grow up in a camp culture.  I don’t know the Keewaydin camp song, or the Grand March at Camp Lincoln.  I can’t imagine putting my kid on a bus in midtown Manhattan and waving goodbye for 8 weeks.   Growing up in Indianapolis in the ’60s, I spent one week at a day camp where we caught crawdads in the creek and sweated it out in the 100 degree heat.  I didn’t think it was terribly fun.

When I was in third grade, my parents — both Yankees who had only known Cape Cod summers — feared I might turn into a Hoosier so decided to ship me off to my aunt’s for six weeks on the Cape after school got out in June.  I vividly remember my mother taking me to the airport to say goodbye, and walking across the tarmac with her to the jet, the words Pan Am looming large and scary in the shimmering heat.  When I kissed her goodbye and my eyes welled up, she looked at me and said “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”  Those words set me free.  I boarded the plane in stride, took a seat next to a stranger in my new matching outfit from Sears, chatted with her the entire flight, enjoyed the attention of the stewardesses and the pilot (those were the days), and looked my six week adventure dead in the eye.

I spent the next five summers at my aunt’s.  It was a blast.  My cousins were 4 and 6 years older, but they’d appear when it was time to go water skiing, which we did every day that the weather was good to middling (sprinkling rain was ok) and the tide was up.  I lived in three bathing suits: the one I was wearing, one that was wet on the line, and the one that was dry on the hook on the back of the bathroom door (the cottage was too small for me to have my own bedroom; I slept on a cot on the porch (coed, of course).  At low tide we played hours of canasta with the kids next door (one stormy summer using  8 decks of cards so it would last all day), made walkie talkies out of cans and string, and got slightly bored until my cousin and I figured out adventures in the eel grass and mud flats.  Weekends were exciting — Uncle Jack was home, more cousins came, and there’d be fishing (which I did only once, because it required arising at 5:30 am and scaling my own fish), sailing, picnics, and family cookouts.  There was no TV, and on Sunday nights my aunt Peggy would break out her guitar, and we’d spend the evening singing.  Calling them ‘hootenanies,’ we sang Broadway show tunes and folk songs that are now dubbed ‘roots music.’  It was plenty indie.  They were some of the best summers of my life.

I want that feeling — a deep love of summer, the water, the outdoors, and no schedule — for my children.  But kids just don’t hang out much anymore.  Driving in my small rural town on a weekday morning in the summer, I don’t see kids (or dogs, for that matter) running across lawns or playing games in the driveway.  At the beach, you see renters on a mad dash to squeeze everything into a two-week vacation, but few kids hanging all summer at the beach with no commitments.  They race home to squash camp, theater camp, and summer enrichment.  I wonder if those hazy crazy lazy days still exist.

A friend of mine suggested Camp Dudley, an old fashioned sleep away camp, for our boys this summer.   It’s different from what I’ve known, and it took me a while to wrap my head around the idea.  But my son was game.  The camp is old fashioned – there’s no ‘theme’ and kids choose from a multitude of diversions– but they are expected to pick a few activities daily, and I’m wondering what kids do if they simply want to retreat under a tree and read for 5 hours.  Maybe they let them.  I love the ‘no electronics’ rule, but I’m also mindful that, when I calculate what this camp costs per week, it’s the equivalent of an Ivy League education for us to achieve such simplicity.  On the other hand, I’m intrigued that they have a quiet time every evening — 15 minutes or so when a cabin counselor leads the boys in each cabin in a thoughtful discussion before bed.  When I was a kid, our most meaningful discussions were whether we could talk Aunt Peggy into taking us go-karting or the Kool Kone after supper. 

Last month, driving home along route 91 through the Adirondacks from Montreal, I noticed that I was about to pass the exit to the camp.  Excitedly, in the dead of winter, I pulled off and drove two miles to Camp Dudley.  The camp director was there and greeted me warmly.  Even with snow, you could see what the place was like — fantastic rustic cabins along a lake, a big welcoming field for all sorts of activities, and an ancient ‘mess hall’ hung with banners that looked right out of a Harry Potter movie.  The boat house was buttoned up tight, but looked ready to spill out onto the lake.  I checked out the cabins and was in awe; they were clean, cozy, and cheerful, with water views and a fireplace, which the director said they gathered around each night for their talks.  (Mental note: pack sweatshirts and pants.)  Icould envision the boys talking around the fire about where they most wanted to travel, or what they would do if faced with a particularly difficult challenge.

I could imagine that maybe, just maybe, this was a place to make a friend for life.  Or at least for the summer. That was as good as life then.

It wasn’t bad, not bad at all.  Just different.