Did you have any heroes when you were nine years old? I did and his name was Robin Jackson.

My family had a summer place off of Clay Pit Road in Gay Head and his parents had one on Lighthouse Road. They had a full house, Billy and Blanche Jackson with four kids: Lawn, Robin, Aaron and Sylvia.

Billy Morrow Jackson was a gifted artist. My parents treasured the prints we had of his illustrations of major events in civil rights history. I don’t remember how the two families met but for some reason I became Robin’s sidekick for a time.

In 1968 you could just hitchhike around at nine years old. No one thought anything about it. I would scream “But I’m from Maryland, too!” at cars that passed me with my home state’s plates. Hitchhiking sometimes required a lot of walking. In those Tom Sawyer-like summers the only impediments to adventure were poison ivy, mosquitoes and sunburn.

Robin, Aaron and I would hitch down to Menemsha with our fishing gear and bait fish traps, grab periwinkles off the rocks, smash them and put the critters in our traps and lower them down off the docks and wait for little fish to become bait on our hooks for bigger fish. The Texaco station also had candy. Swimming at the beach helped when the big fish weren’t biting. If you were a patient walker who could endure rounded rocks while wearing flip flops, you could wander down the beach (for what seemed like hours) until you came to the ruins of the brick factory.

But Robin and I palled around, too, testing our strength against the most powerful force on earth: waves in the ocean. He was an excellent swimmer. I was basically just some flotsam with little stick arms and legs. I once witnessed him crawl down the rocks from the Menemsha Basin side of the channel, bundle his belongings into the ball of his T-shirt and swim across the incoming tide to rocks on the other side with his handing holding his stuff above water. He didn’t want to waste time hitching all the way around the foot of

the Island. I think he said he was going to visit a girl. Robin showed me how to body surf at Zack’s Cliffs. We had a glorious day of sunshine and good rolling, fun-sized surf over long tracts of sand with few rocks and boulders. Under his tutelage I saw how picking the right wave at the right place and time was critical. And just like fishing, sometimes you have to throw the small ones and the larger ones back. You had to ride over, jump over or dive down and hug the bottom to avoid getting sucked back in to the curl.

Robin had an advantage over me. He was four years older and taller, heavier and stronger. There are few pleasures in life like when you catch that exact wave and surge with the boiling foam right up to the edge of the wet beach where you emerge sputtering with sand and salt water up your nose and let out a whoop because nature just gave you a free 30-yard ride. Robin taught me that. That’s why he was my hero on that day.

But he had a plan and a few days later he told me about Squibnocket Beach. I had only seen the entrance from our family car going to and from down-Island. I had no idea what it was like so I was game. We hitched there the next day and walked in on the dirt road. The beach was not as shallow as Zack’s and the waves looked bigger and there were more rock obstacles. We waded in and tried a few.

The going was rough and the height of the waves was disturbing. Thrill was turning to fear as the rides seemed nasty, brutish and short and the cadence required you to immediately get up and face the water to interpret the next crest. If you were too slow you would be pounded. It was good to be challenged but it was not that much fun.

And then I made a mistake and launched too soon in the wrong spot on a wave that was a little too big and I learned what clothes feel like in the spin cycle of a washing machine, specifically, a front loader. Dizzy, bruised and spluttering I got up too late only to get pounded by another monster. I was able to drag myself out and lay down where I contemplated my injuries: sand rashed knees, sore neck and considerable water up my nose.

From my towel I watched Robin dance in those waves and realized I would have to wait a few years for that ability (if it were possible). We left the beach later and I realized that I wouldn’t be spending as much time with him. Who wants a little kid tagging along. But that didn’t matter at all. I had my fill and had learned so much I think that was the last time I saw him that summer.

Tim Barritt lives in South Burlington, Vt.