While I make small talk with Mrs. Roth, I catch sight of the rest of the family. Mr. Roth is in training mode, unloading a board with Lana, and barking commands. But I’m having trouble paying attention to anything but Porter. If there are any traces of melancholy left on him, he’s packed them away. It’s a new day, and I can see the change in the way he walks across the sand, the way he holds his head high. He’s ready to move on.

He’s donned a sleeveless black-and-aqua wet suit, and it’s clinging in all the right places. Standing next to Mrs. Roth, I’m afraid to look too closely all at once, but hot damn. I catch his eyes once when his mom’s busy chatting with Sharonda, who is apparently friends with Lana. I can’t wink, so I just look him up and down and mouth, Wow. He gives me a spectacular grin in return. He’s so cocky; the boy knows how good he looks. I roll my eyes, but I can’t stop smiling, and he loves the attention. He could build sand castles on the beach and never even surf one wave for all I care. Mission accomplished.

After that exchange, his focus shifts. I notice the moment it happens. He’s stretching, both him and Lana, legs and arms, normal stretches and some weird jumping. They’re both super limber. And the entire time, his eyes are on the water. He’s calculating the big waves. Timing them, or something. He checks his watch occasionally, but mostly he’s watching the water and checking the sky. He’s very intense. I like him this way.

There’s some sort of surfing etiquette I don’t understand, but I can tell Porter and Lana are waiting their turn. And I can also tell that the other surfers aren’t very good, and some of them are giving up and clearing out. After a minute, Mr. Roth gives his wife a head signal.

“Okay, girls,” she says to me and Sharonda. “We’re going up there.”

“Up there” is a short hike up a massive sand dune that gives us a great view of the ocean. From here, we can see the waves rolling in much more clearly and all the other surfers who are either surfing on the smaller waves closer to shore (not impressive), or trying to ride the bigger waves farther out and not lasting very long. The ocean is eating them alive. Now I’m a little worried.

“They’re not surfing those, are they?” I ask. The big waves looked smaller and flatter from the beach.

“You bet your sweet patootie they are,” she says, all fierce mom pride. And from the looks of the crowd gathering behind us to watch, she isn’t the only one interested in the show.

I hope this is a shark-free zone.

Lana’s in yellow and black, and she goes first. She lies flat on her board and paddles out, and that takes longer than you’d think. Porter gives her some distance, but he’s paddling now too. The farther out they go, the scarier it gets. They sometimes disappear under the smaller rolling waves, like speed bumps in a road, then reappear on the other side.

“Have you seen them surf before?” I ask Sharonda, taking a bite of doughnut. I hate to break it to Mrs. Roth, but this is no churro or vanilla moon muffin.

“Yeah, I live down the road, so I see Lana surf a couple of times a week. Sometimes I go watch events, if they aren’t too far. I once rode down to Huntington Beach with the Roths. Remember that?”

“Sure do, honey,” Mrs. Roth says, watching the water.

“What about Porter?” I ask.

Sharonda nods. “I’ve been watching Porter compete locally since he was, like, thirteen. He used to have hair down to here,” she says, putting her hand halfway down her back. “Nothing but curls. All the girls in our class had a crush on him.”

Mrs. Roth sticks out her bottom lip, looking sentimental. “He was such a sweet boy. My little grommet.”

“Oh, and we’ll be watching all of Lana’s surfing heats together on TV,” Sharonda says excitedly, reaching around me to tap Mrs. Roth’s arm. “Maybe we can have viewing parties?”

This surprises me. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that Lana will be that professional. Now that I know her, she just seems like a good-natured kid who chews a lot of gum and drools when she falls asleep on the couch, which is what happened that afternoon at their house.

Lana and Porter are both floating on their boards, bobbing in the rolling waves. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for, but everyone is tense. Before I can ask what’s happening, Lana’s yellow-and-black suit pops onto her board. She’s standing, crouched on her board, and cutting through a massive wave I didn’t even realize was there.

There she goes!

She’s like a beautiful black-and-yellow bee, zipping through the water, making tight zigzag motions that seem to go on forever. I can’t believe she can ride the wave for so long. It’s crazy. How is this possible? Seems like it goes against nature.

“Yeah, Lana,” Mrs. Roth calls out to the ocean, clapping in time with all of Lana’s zigzagging. “Go, baby, go!”

By the time Lana finishes, she’s so far on the other side of the dune, it’s going to take her five minutes to walk back to us. No wonder these kids are in shape. This surfing gig is exhausting.

The crowd on the sand dune explodes into applause and whistles, and I clap along, too. Mrs. Roth rotates her hand in the air, egging them on. “That little peanut is going to win it all,” she tells everyone around us, and some of them high-five her.

She’s so proud. Everyone’s smiling. It’s all exciting, but now I’m watching Porter, because he’s paddled out just a little farther, and that makes my stomach drop.

Mr. Roth comes bounding up the sand dune, eyes on the water. How long has it been since Porter’s surfed like this? I’m suddenly nervous. If he crashes, or whatever it’s called, I don’t want him to do it in front of me and be embarrassed later. I can’t handle that. I want to look away, maybe make some excuse, like I got sick from the doughnut and had to leave. I can hear about it later.

Then he pops up on his board.

Too late. Can’t look away now.

His wave is bigger than Lana’s. His stance is different from Lana’s. He rides the board up the curling water, up, up, up . . . (please don’t fall!) and at the top, he’s— Holy Mother of Sheep, he’s flying up in the air, board and body! Impossibly, on a dime, he turns the board one hundred and eighty degrees, sharply. Then he rides the wave right back down, smooth as glass, white foam kicking out from the tail of his board like the train of a wedding dress.

“YES!” Mr. Roth bellows, holding up his arm.

The crowd behind me shouts along with Mrs. Roth.

It’s happening so fast. That was just one move, and though Porter doesn’t take the board up in the air again, he’s already made turn number two (crouching low at base of wave, wait, wait . . . rides up again), and whoosh! Turn three! Now he’s riding back down, still going, arms out for balance, like fins.

Lana’s style was fast and quick, full of spunk; Porter is slower and his moves are grander. Poetic. Beautiful. He’s cutting through the water as if he’s painting a picture with his body.

I didn’t know surfing looked like this.

I didn’t know Porter could do this.

He makes the last turn at the end of the wave, a baby turn, because there isn’t much wave left to ride, and then neatly comes to a stop where the sand rises toward the beach, the wave washing all around him, as if the ocean found him shipwrecked and is delivering him safely to shore.