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The Air That Got Away
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

My wife, Mary, thought that my enthusiasm for spending a week at Club Med in Mexico was some sort of product of romance. She envisioned just the two of us, romantic Mexican sunsets, long walks on the beach and staying in bed until noon. We read the same brochure. It’s funny how men and women can interpret a simple piece of literature totally differently. To me, Club Med’s slogan, “Life As It Should Be”, translated to “Come and Do Man Things”. Perfect, because it just so happens that I was, and still am, a man.

Deep-sea fishing, basketball, volleyball, weight room, water skiing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing... Wait, was that “windsurfing” they offered? I closed my eyes and the vision became crystal clear. There I was, gliding across the ocean on my windsurf-board, when I meet a swell head-on. As the swell crests, my board and I shoot over the curling lip. We are completely out of the water, catching incredible air. It’s just like one of those Sunkist Orange Soda commercials from the ‘90’s.
Of course, I didn’t expect such an experience immediately, especially since I’d never been within ten yards of a live windsurf-board before. But, with the free instruction provided by the knowledgeable Club Med staff and six full days to absorb all I could, the air would soon be mine.

Enrique was our Club Med windsurf instructor for the beginners’ class. He ran through the different parts of the board, how to use the wind, blah-blah-blah. Although my exterior reflected patience, secretly I was screaming to the man, “Put me on the board, for goodness sake! Point me to the best air-catching spot in Mexico, and set me free.”

Eventually, Enrique let us on the boards. “Bend your knees, lean back, butt in, pull the rope hand-over-hand...” I’ll tell you this, I was pretty darn good at this thing if I do say so myself. But, then again, we were still on the beach. But, how much different could the ocean be?

Enrique assigned one board to every two students before we ventured toward the water. Mary and I teamed up. The rules were simple: one person was to hold the board steady as the other attempted to get the sail up and hopefully sail across the water. After falling from the board three times, the partners were to switch positions and start all over. I figured it would only be fair to let Mary go first. Sure, she’s in shape and athletic, but, c’mon, I’m a man. It’s in a man’s nature to pick up a new sport quickly. And, just as I thought, soon there were three quick splashes, and it was my turn.

As I stood on the board, I discovered that for some reason sand tends to be a bit more stable than the Pacific Ocean. The board teetered. I kept my balance. The board tottered. I kept my balance. I took a deep breath and reached for the sail’s rope. Splash!

“That didn’t count, did it?” I asked my wife. With a smile on her face and a finger in the air, all Mary said was,” That’s one.”

I couldn’t believe she was counting that as “one”. Okay, if she wanted to play this way, no more Mr. Splash Guy. I balanced myself on the board. I reached for the rope. The sail went up. Now, to get it into the wind. I turned the sail. I didn’t realize how strong wind could be. It felt like twister that had swept away Dorothy’s Kansas home had just found my sail. I was going down fast, and I knew it. Instead of fighting the inevitable, I decided to dive into the water gracefully. Unbeknownst to me, the rope had found a way to coil around my ankle like a fast-moving Mexican water anaconda. In mid-air, the rope caught, pulling me back, making for a spectacular belly flop (that I believe is still on the Club Med’s Wall of Shame) to go along with my new rope burn. I expected to see my wife swimming toward me to be sure I had survived my traumatic plunge, but instead the first thing I saw as I popped my head out of the saltwater was a smirk upon her face and two fingers, “That’s two.”

I grumbled myself back on the board. I would not go down again. I pulled the sail up, felt the twister then, let the sail drop back down. Hey, I was still standing. Technically, I hadn’t fallen off the board. So, I got another shot. I used this “dropping the sail” technique a couple more times until I started to feel the sting on the soles of my feet where the sandpaper-like surface of the board had broken my calloused skin. The inevitable occurred, and I was down for my third count.

It was Mary’s turn, again. I wasn’t too upset. This would be over quickly enough. I held the board. She pulled the rope. Splash! Up again, I held the board. She pulled the rope... no splash. Instead, Mary turned the sail to the wind. Just like Dorothy, my little 105 pound wife rode that twister. She was windsurfing. Other students, who hadn’t progressed as far as she, stopped and pointed. They looked at me and smiled their admiration. I forced a grin back, really wanting to say, “Okay, already! I know, I know. She’s windsurfing, and I’m not!” Splash. She was down. Awww, too bad. She still had one more chance. Funny thing is, somehow I seemed to have neglected to hold the board steady for her. Splash number three.

Okay, my turn. I had to get up this time. Knees bent, feet apart, hand-over-hand, butt in. Splash!

I was obviously thinking too hard. Up again, I concentrated yet tried to let my mind relax, not much unlike like using a straw without sucking. As I turned the sail to the wind, it caught... no splash. Movement. I was moving. No, I was windsurfing. I looked back over my shoulder to the shore to see Enrique giving me thumbs up. Mary was smiling at me. I turned back to the ocean ahead of me. The board and I were covering a lot of distance in quite a short amount of time. We must have been traveling a good eighty-six exhilarating miles per hour.

I looked back over my shoulder, again. Strange, but I could no longer see Enrique’s thumbs. I could barely make out the instructor standing there on the shore. Mary’s head had become just a black ball bobbing on the water.

“I guess it’s about time I slow this thing down and turn back,” I decided. So, I... uh... “How do I do that?” I thought back to Enrique’s instructions on the beach. All I could recall was,”blah-blah-blah.” I’d never realized how fast the brain worked during the last moments on earth. Instead of my life flashing before my eyes, I saw the movie 10. The scene that played over and over was when Bo Derek’s husband fell asleep on his surfboard and ended up floating on the ocean off the coast of Mexico, leading to near third degree burns over his entire body.

I was completely unable to control the infernal vehicle, and the more time I took making a decision, the farther from the Club Med Village I sailed. So I jumped. That was the only feasible conclusion to this drastic situation. Splash!

Afraid to raise sail again and ride back to shore for fear of sailing to Hong Kong instead, with board under one arm, I swam the 643 miles back to the beach. Talk about exhausting! And, during my trek back to land, one word continually sprang to mind: stupid. Boy, was I stupid. I was still a man, but a very stupid man.

As I sat on the beach in the one-hundred and seven degree Mexican sun, trying to catch my breath, I looked down at my blistered hands, felt the salt drying into my stone-ground feet, and babied my injured ego. Enrique approached me and asked, “So, you going back out, my friend?”

As I pondered his question, my body hollered to me, “What are you pondering for? You’re a wreck. The answer is quite simple. Tell the man, ‘no’.” Yet, my lips refused to move, for my brain responded, “You can’t let Enrique think you’ve given up so easily. You’re the man... remember?” I was the man. Brain was right.

But, before I opened my mouth, brain heard the faint sounds of a Mexican beat coming from the Club Med Village Square. Brain asked me, “Hey, what’s that? Are they doing the limbo? Don’t they give free tropical drinks to the limbo champion?”

Upon hearing brain, body breathed a sigh of relief. Enrique repeated, “Well, are you ready for another shot?”

Body tried to persuade brain to get the heck off that beach. “Hey Brain, this is the Body. Doing the limbo requires skill and flexibility that windsurfing just can’t provide.”

Brain replied, “Yeah, we need to work a new muscle group anyway.”

“Enrique, my friend,” I answered, “unfortunately I think the wife has had it for the day. You know how women can be with a new sport. But, we’ll see you tomorrow.” I got back to my feet and I limped over to my wife to “help” her back to the Village.

The funny thing is that we never seemed to make it back to Enrique and his windsurf-boards. I don’t know why. It just seemed that something else always took precedence, like a romantic walk on the beach, a Mexican sunset cruise, or just staying in bed until noon.

I never did end up catching the air I had hoped to. The closest I got was playing ping-pong in an air-conditioned rec room, paddle in one hand, Sunkist Orange Soda in the other... the way life was meant to be.

Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Oct 10,2008 17:35
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