Blair Sandburg sighed, thinking about the problem he was facing. Jim's birthday was only a few months away and he had no idea what to get for the love of his life. They'd been together long enough that celebrations had become more casual. They usually went to a more upscale restaurant, or got tickets to a show, or went on a longer camping trip. But this was Jim's 50th. While Jim claimed not to care, Blair knew that society made turning fifty a big deal and Jim's upbringing had him fully entrenched in his society. So, Blair had to come up with something special; something unique.
The answer came as they were watching surfing. Not their usual fare, but it was a rare Saturday when none of their favorite sports teams were playing and ESPN was showing a Big Wave competition. Laying with his head in Jim's lap, Blair didn't miss the change in Jim's body as he moved from watching to watching. He'd almost dozed off and turned his head to see what caught Jim's interest. The surfers were riding what appeared to be monster waves.
"Jim," Blair asked, "Is it my eyes or are those humongous waves?"
"Not your eyes, Chief," Jim answered. "It's called Big Wave surfing. Started out small in the 80s and now these guys are challenging waves considered impossible 20 years ago." Jim sighed. "They claim it's like flying. Can you imagine?"
Blair could imagine a lot of things, most of them involving being dashed against a reef or pounded by a fifty-foot wave that drove you so deep in the water you didn't know which way was up. Or being beaned by those very long boards they were using. But he wisely kept those imaginings to himself when he glimpsed that look of longing in Jim's eyes. "Wow, it's pretty amazing, all right." He didn't say anything else, but he watched the competition a lot more closely.
After being official partners for five years, Jim was given the opportunity to become Captain of the Homicide Department. Rather than stay a detective in Major Crime, Blair applied to teach at the Police Academy. Working in different divisions had some advantages. It was easier for them to take vacation time off together. Jim simply arranged his time to match Blair's schedule. It was also easier for Blair to do things without explaining them to Jim. It often came in handy, like when he had to plan an awesome birthday surprise. He had plenty of time and privacy to start doing research.
The internet, as usual, provided a wealth of information. How Big Wave surfing got its start, the original players, the evolution of the boards. How it became popular as a new, sexy way to stand out after decades of traditional surfing. Blair's heart constricted as he read about the increased dangers and injuries; even one death of a well-known expert surfer. He breathed a little easier as he read about how those incidents led to a push for increased safety, spearheaded by some of the leading surfers in the new sport.
Blair decided that he'd done all he could online. It was time to actually talk to someone about his plan. He called and made an appointment with the local pro shop. Then he called Jim to cancel lunch.
"Captain Ellison's office, can I help you?" Sasha Alexander, Jim's assistant, answered the phone.
Blair expected that, knowing Jim was in budget meetings all morning. "Hi, Sasha. It's Blair."
"Oh, hi, Blair," she answered. "What's up?"
"Same old thing, different day," Blair said with a grin. "I just wanted to let Jim know I won't be able to make it for lunch today."
"Nah, just a little too much to do and I can't swing it. Let him know I won't be late tonight and I'll call him later."
"Sure thing, Blair. Have a great day."
"Thanks, Sasha, you too." Blair smiled, glad he could get away without too much obfuscation. Now, off to meet Joe Marinaro, the local surf pro.
An hour later, Blair walked in the front door and was greeted by a smiling Joe. "Blair, how the hell are you? What are you doing here without your surf bum? Or at least he used to be one."
Blair laughed. "Since being promoted, he doesn't have the leisure time he used to, but I'm going to push him to do some fun things, like pulling out his board," Blair answered. "He's actually what I wanted to talk to you about. You see…" And with that Blair explained how he wanted to get Jim a Big Wave experience but not kill him in the process. Joe listened carefully to Blair's hopes and fears and then led him into his office.
"You know we don't have Big Wave surf here, but I do have some vids you can look at. I think this is doable, but it'll take a bit of prep work."
Joe popped in a tape and forwarded it. "Here's a technique that started a few years ago that I think will help. You see that guy with the jet ski?" Blair nodded, watching as a surfer and his board was riding in the back of a jet ski. The driver drove the surfer out to the large waves. Then the surfer got on his board and held onto a tow line that had a handle, like those used by water skiers. The driver towed the surfer to the top of the waves, pulling him up and along the crest. The surfer then let go of the tow rope and surfed the big wave in.
Joe paused the tape to explain. "It's called tow-in surfing. It accomplishes two things. It gets the surfer to larger waves that they just wouldn't have the strength to paddle out to. While we don't want Jim to tackle the monster waves, this would still help him get out to the decent waves without wearing him out."
"Yeah," Blair answered. "This would be really helpful since he hasn't had the time to surf regularly. His muscle memory isn't going to be optimal."
Joe nodded. "And since this is a one-time experience, using tow-in would get him hitting those waves faster. He'd have more chance of catching some good waves in the short time you've got."
"This sounds like the way to go," Blair agreed. "Who drives the jet ski?"
"Here you have a choice. You can hire a professional on site; there's plenty of them around. The local pro will recommend someone based on what you want." Joe leaned back in his chair and gave Blair a considering look. "I think if you put in the time, you'd be able to do it yourself." At Blair's look of consternation, Joe pressed on. "Look, you've got a vested interest in giving Jim the best support. You already know CPR, you'd be able to convince him to use all the safety equipment, like a life vest and leash. But most important," Joe continued, looking Blair in the eye, "is the connection you two have. You'd be able to tell if he's in trouble and get out the emergency beacons quicker. And you'd be the first on site to help him."
Blair could see the wisdom in Joe's reasoning. He squared his shoulders and nodded. "Tell me what I need to do."
"While we don't have the big waves here, we do have the equipment. We can get one of the kids to do the surfing; we've got a long board and jet ski, plus all the safety equipment, so you can get used to how it will work. I'll coach you. When can you start?"
Blair checked his calendar. "Day after tomorrow? Say around nine? That would get the surfers done with the morning waves and Jim will be off early to work. I can be here without his being any the wiser."
"Works for me. Before you go, let me show you a little more about the tow-in technique." He rewound and started the tape again. "First, you ride out with the surfer on the jet ski. See how the driver approaches the wave? He has to go in sideways, so you're cutting through the waves diagonally, rather than straight on. It makes the ride smoother and less chance of getting flipped by the wave."
"Sideways, got it."
"Once you're out there, the surfer gets on his board and grabs the tow handle. The driver then starts riding along the swell of an approaching wave, matching the speed of the wave, pulling the surfer along behind. The surfer lets go of the tow line when he's ready, then the driver activates a winch that pulls the line back in. But, if something happens where he doesn't release, or it gets caught, you can snap it loose from the jet ski, just under the right handle. Safety beacons are in the storage bin on your left. You'll check to make sure your equipment is there."
Joe opened a desk drawer and pulled out a beacon, tossing it to Blair. "Just twist it, make sure it's blinking and toss it in the air. It will float. Remember that there will be lifeguards looking for them and they'll assist you. But you'll be on point." Joe waited until Blair turned the beacon on and off before handing it back. "I think that's as much as we can do until you actually get in the water. I'll have it all waiting for you."
They both stood and Blair gave Joe a hug. "Thank you for helping me make this happen. Jim is going to have a kick-ass birthday and I'm not going to have a heart attack." Blair gave Joe a lopsided grin. "Or that's my mantra, anyway."
Joe laughed. "This will work, you'll see. And I want pictures. I want to see that bum's grinning face after he conquers his first big wave."
"You got it man. See you soon."
Blair's first session went surprisingly well. Joe was waiting on the beach with a pile of equipment and a tall, blond man who made Blair feel ancient. The kid couldn't have been more than 18. Joe made the introductions. "Blair, this is Chris Taylor. He's in his first year at City College, so he's got a flexible schedule that should work well with yours."
Blair and Chris shook hands. "Nice to meet you, Chris. You're just about Jim's size. Good pick."
"Yeah," Chris answered with a grin. "Joe thought it would work better that way."
They spent a few minutes explaining the different life vests, how to release the tow line and where to locate the beacons. Then it was time to hit the water. Blair stripped to his shorts and a T-shirt and took a few moments to slather on strong sunblock. The last thing he wanted to explain to Jim was a sunburn.
Joe climbed on a jet ski and started coaching. "Remember to approach the waves in a long, diagonal manner. When you get behind the waves, Chris will get on his board, grab the tow handle and stand up. You'll start towing him sideways along the top of the developing wave. It's important to match your speed to the wave. Too fast and you'll pull him off the board; too slow and the wave will get to you both."
It took a good two hours for Blair to feel comfortable with his technique, during which time Chris got dumped more than a few times, which he accepted good-naturedly. They broke for lunch and a debrief, with Blair picking up the tab. Checking the surf reports and their various schedules, they planned to meet the following week to practice on larger waves.
Their next session was shorter, but more intense. Blair worked on perfecting his timing and the sharp turns needed to get out of the surfer's way after he let go of the tow line. Chris purposely fell off his board to simulate a rescue situation. Blair threw up the beacons, then went in to grab Chris while avoiding the board. Joe assisted, playing the part of beach patrol lifeguard. After the fourth simulation, they called it a day.
Over lunch, they discussed their session. Blair was a little discouraged.
"No, no, you're looking at it wrong, Blair," Joe said. "Don't see it as you could only do four rescues. See it as your outer limit. If you have to make two rescues, that's when you call it a day and try again the next. You want to be at your optimum so you're ready for anything."
Blair sighed, then nodded. "Okay, that makes sense. I'll keep working on my strength training, but I won't worry about longevity in the water. Or, at least I'll try not to worry." He looked out at the pounding surf. "Is this a mistake?"
"You're right to have a healthy concern about this, but I think your problem is trying to anticipate everything all by yourself. Once Jim's in the know, he's going to love this. And he's in great shape. He came out here last weekend to do some surfing, by the way. Your doing?"
Blair grinned. "Yeah, I made up an excuse to get out here and, well, it didn't take much to plant the idea."
"Well, he looked good; steady as a rock. And he had that old gleam in his eye. It was good for him."
Good for us, too. Blair thought. Jim had come back energized, happy and, after a shower, horny. They'd had great sex all week. But he kept that part to himself.
"So," Joe spoke up, interrupting Blair's pleasant memories, "Have you thought about where's you're going?"
Blair perked up. "Yeah, I've done some research and narrowed it down to three places."
They discussed the different locations and decided on Todos Santos, Mexico.
"That's a great place," Chris piped up unexpected. "I was down there last summer. The water's warm and the waves are high. It's so much less crowded than Cabo or La Paz." He looked up dreamily, "And there's this little hole in the wall with the best fish tacos."
Blair laughed, "Sold! They also have some sights. There's a mission down there."
Joe rolled his eyes. "Yeah, so if Jim decides that he'd rather not catch the waves, you two can ride donkeys to the local mission."
"It could happen," Blair said in mock outrage. He sat back to drink his iced tea. "So, next question is when." He pulled out his calendar. "What would be the best time for the waves in… this two-week period?"
"Let's go back to the shop and check it out," Joe said. Blair again paid for lunch and gave Chris his fee. They made arrangements for one more session closer to the trip time and parted. Joe gave Blair the projected surf reports for Todos Santos and they once more hugged. "Thank you," Blair said softly.
"This is going to be the best, you'll see," said Joe, giving him an encouraging pat on the shoulder.
"Do you love me?"
"With all my heart."
"Do you trust me?"
"With my life," came the immediately reply. They'd been lounging on the couch after dinner, Blair's head again in Jim's lap. Jim was idly rubbing Blair's back. He wasn't concerned by the questions; Blair wasn't putting out any signs of distress. A quick monitor of his vitals showed he wasn't upset. Just a little… nervous. "You know the answer. What brought this up?" Jim asked.
Blair sighed and sat up. "I know you don't want to make a big deal about your birthday," Blair began as Jim rolled his eyes. "But I do. I want you to let me make a big deal." He took Jim's hand. "And I want you to let me keep it a surprise."
Jim smiled fondly. "So, in other words, follow you into the breach?" Blair nodded. "Okay, do I have to prepare anything?"
Blair gave Jim a blinding smile. "Pack for warm weather and casual. Dig out your passport. We're leaving in two weeks." He kissed Jim. "Thank you."
Todos Santos was everything the brochures promised. Not crowded, a relaxed atmosphere and lots of amenities. The weather was warm and breezy. As Jim unpacked, he smirked at some of the clothes choices Blair had added to his suitcase. "You expect me to wear this on the beach, Chief?" he asked, holding up the skimpiest Speedo he'd ever seen.
"While I know you can pull it off, that's for a private audience. Tonight." He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "If you're not too tired, that is."
"Never too tired for you."
"We'll see. Put on your regular trunks and lots of sun screen. We're going down to the beach for your present." Jim immediately complied.
On the shore, surfers were already enjoying the waves, which were not record-breakers but would certainly qualify as Big Waves. There were several tow-in surfers testing their mettle. Jim stared, wide-eyed, as Blair explained the entire plan. "You planned this all out based on my reaction to that surf competition we saw on TV?"
"Well, yeah. I could see how interested you were…" Blair trailed off. "Unless you don't want to do this. We can just bum around, maybe see the mission and eat fish tacos instead."
Jim laughed. "Not a chance. This is going to be great! When do we start?"
"As soon as you've gone through my official safety drill." Jim laughed again and gave Blair a quick kiss. They headed toward the pro shop where everything was waiting.
Blair bobbed up and down on the jet ski, watching Jim. Despite the noise of the surf, he was sure he could hear Jim's "Whoo-hooo!" all the way to the shoreline. It took no time at all for Jim to understand the technique and balance on the broad waves, looking like the conquering hero he'd always been to Blair. He towed Jim in and out happily for hours, until it was time to refuel the jet ski and get some food for themselves.
The fish taco place Chris boasted about more than met their expectations. They chowed down while viewing the video the guy at the pro shop agreed to tape. Now that Blair's worst fears were over, he gave in to excitement. It was even more thrilling to watch Jim from the front as he balanced on those huge, powerful crests.
After lunch, the waves had flattened out, but were still large enough to surf the traditional way. Blair made a run to the local mercado for beer and food and set up a stake on the beach. Jim got a regular board and surfed all afternoon, stopping occasionally to grab some food and sun screen. In all respects it was one of the most perfect days he could remember.
As they lay entwined on their bed in the big, airy bungalow, Jim spoke in an awed murmur. "I can't believe today, Blair. It was perfect--absolutely perfect." He kissed Blair passionately. "Thank you for all the love you've given me all these years. I don't know how I was so lucky to get you. As Naomi would say, I must have done something in a previous life to be so lucky."
Blair smiled and then looked up in mock sternness, "Please don't mention my mom while we're in bed together. It really kills the mood."
Jim chuckled. "Sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?"
Blair smirked. "You have to ask? I'm waiting for my ride." Jim gave him a smart salute and started stripping them both as Blair continued. "And just think, we can do this all again tomorrow." He looked at Jim sideways with a little smile. "Unless you'd rather ride donkeys to the mission?" Blair asked innocently.
Jim snorted. "Where did that come from? I think I'll stick with door number one, Monty Hall. Let me get you that ride."