Positioning. Balance. Patience.
Charlie McAvoy was all too familiar with the routine. Those words of wisdom were imparted on him from his father when he was just four years old — right when he started to fall in love with the sport.
By the time he was 6, McAvoy — as he’s seemingly done with whatever he invests himself in — was ready to take the next step in this athletic venture, and started to take his father’s words to heart.
Positioning. Balance. Patience. … And Paddle. You can’t forget to paddle out there.
If hockey now constitutes the majority of McAvoy’s life — then surfing provides the release for the second-year NHL pro.
Whereas most of his peers opt for a cart and a short iron to occupy most of their time during the dog days of summer, McAvoy longs for the moments in which he can sink into a beach chair and monitor the surf — a cathartic experience best enjoyed during the stretches in which he can return to his hometown of Long Beach, New York.
“It’s a blissful sport,” McAvoy said. “I mean, you’re sitting on the board, sun’s beating down on you, the water ... it’s just awesome. It’s something that I fell in love with.”
McAvoy won’t be quitting his job anytime soon. Hockey still stands as his passion, and it’s taken the defenseman from a promising local product out of Long Island into the next man in waiting to anchor Boston’s blue line for the next decade.
When the daily grind of the NHL campaign finally subsides, McAvoy still crafts much of his offseason itinerary around hockey — ramping up his training efforts to finetune his conditioning while keeping his legs fresh while playing in the Foxboro Summer League alongside other pros like Kevin Hayes, Brian Boyle, Chris Wagner and Matt Grzelcyk.
McAvoy’s new gig might preclude him from the days of years past, in which many hazy summer mornings, afternoons and evenings were spent in the chilly Atlantic waters off the South Shore of Long Island.
But when the moments present themselves, McAvoy is usually looking to catch some waves with his father, Charlie Sr. — who instilled a love of the ocean and surf in McAvoy and his three sisters from an early age.
“It’s something that kind of brings us back, because it’s been stuff we’ve been doing since I was a little kid,” McAvoy said. “I always loved to go watch him surf. He was kind of my hero. So when I go out there and we get to surf together, I’m still in awe of how he surfs.
“He’s one of the best guys out there every time he’s out there. It’s something I try to do in the summer with him as much as I can. It kind of brings us back to not too long ago.”
McAvoy was already on skates by the age of 3, but his hometown isn’t exactly known as a hockey hotbed.
Graced with a 2.2-mile boardwalk and a wide swath of unremitting shoreline, Long Beach has always been a surfer’s paradise on the East Coast. The seaside city has a total land area just over two square miles, but boasts four or five shops dedicated to surfing, including one in the same building as McAvoy Plumbing — the business opened in the 1920s by McAvoy’s great-grandfather and currently run by both Charlie Sr. and his brother, Kevin.
Whereas hockey might have been McAvoy’s first love, he immediately felt a connection to the ocean, with his father holding him onto his surfboard while pushing him into the white-water waves by the time he was four.
“He was always a water kid,” McAvoy Sr. said. “Summertime ... it was always riding the bikes or skateboarding down to the beach and surfing. ... He’d get up on the board and by 5 or 6, and he was getting good enough at it where he was paddling on his own and trying to catch his own waves and it just took off from there.”
McAvoy’s affinity for the waves seemed predetermined before he even started to find his footing on his own surfboard — given the family history.
McAvoy Sr.’s own childhood bears a pretty striking resemblance to his son’s early introduction to the surf — with his whole family spending most of their days catching the favorable swell just off the coast.
“It was almost the same experience,” McAvoy Sr. said. “My mom would get us out of the house every summer and that’s where we’d stay from nine o'clock in the morning until the sun was setting. That’s when my dad would get out of work and he’d meet us down the beach.
“We’d be sunburnt as can be — sunblock wasn't that important back then — and I wouldn't say we were surf bums, but until we were old enough to get jobs at 13, 14, we were surfing constantly. That was where it took off for me.”
McAvoy Sr.’s older brothers, Coley and Kevin, helped him hone his craft out amongst the waves, although Coley left for San Diego when Charlie Sr. was just 6-years old.
Coley’s move did have his perks for Charlie Sr., however, as his eldest brother took up a job shaping surfboards and working at a skateboard company upon arriving on the West Coast. The new job allowed Coley to send surfing gear back to Long Beach, with Charlie Sr. getting his own board by the time he was 10.
(To be fair, he snagged some sweet equipment earlier than that, with him and his younger brother, Michael, often “borrowing” the board sent for Kevin and hitting the beach when his older brother wasn’t looking.)
Now in his 50s, McAvoy Sr. still hasn’t lost his love for the ocean, often donning a wetsuit and hitting the surf all the way through the winter, so long as the Atlantic doesn’t freeze up. Things have now come full circle for McAvoy Sr. since the days he and his brothers would lounge out in the sand.
“Once my kids got into it, that would be their summer camp,” McAvoy Sr. said. “Some of the kids went to camp or went upstate with their families to a cabin or whatever. Ours was just hit the beach every day.”
[caption id="attachment_493016" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Charlie McAvoy (top) started surfing on his own board at the age of six — with plenty of help from his father (bottom). (Photo courtesy of McAvoy Family)[/caption]
McAvoy Sr. might be the authority in the family when it comes to surfing prowess, but he was quick to not discount his son’s skill once the waves get good.
“Charlie is a good surfer and can handle himself in any size surf,” his father said. “He’s a great, strong swimmer. Obviously hockey took over at a young age for him where, for me, I played hockey, but it wasn’t the sport it was now, where you could go year-round with it. Our (hockey) bags went in the garage after the season was over. Whereas Charlie, all the way through, as a little guy, I had him in hockey camps. But his surfing ability is right up there.”
Whether it be refining his skills on the ice or spending hours in the ocean, McAvoy has always been one to jump headfirst into any sport he took a liking to. Even at 3 or 4, McAvoy would often spend a couple of hours working on his skating skills at the local Long Beach rink with his dad.
Many nights, it would be just the two of them, taking advantage of an open sheet of ice. It was an ideal situation for a young McAvoy, as his father — the plumbing and heating contractor of the building — had the keys to the place.
“Anything that he usually picked up, if he really liked it, he was motivated to keep doing it,” McAvoy Sr. said. “As they say, practice makes perfect and when he took to something, whether it be a baseball mitt and hitting a ball or playing lacrosse or with hockey, he just took to it. With swimming and surfing, it was like every day. ‘Mom, Dad, when are we going to the beach? Let’s get out of this house and get down there.’
As he grew older, McAvoy continued to hit the waves with his local buddies and his father, even during the chillier months on the calendar. However, as his stock continued to rise as a potential blue-chip hockey prospect, surfing started to take more of a backseat for McAvoy — with the youngster often making an hours-long commute after school as a high-school freshman to play for the New Jersey Rockets elite program 60 miles west in Bridgewater, New Jersey. By the time he was a sophomore, McAvoy packed his bags and headed up to Ann Arbor, Michigan for two years with Team USA’s National Team Development Program.
Now in his second full season with the Bruins, McAvoy doesn’t have much time set aside to surf these days, but his family still carves out stretches where they can get together for some bonding on the beach.
For each of the last two seasons, McAvoy Sr. has made the trek out to California during the Bruins’ West-Coast swing — with the father-son duo getting a chance to tour the Hurley headquarters and factory in Costa Mesa, California, just a few miles away from Huntington Beach.
McAvoy Sr. was able to check out the swell at “Surf City” during his visit in November 2017, with Hurley providing a surfboard and wetsuit so that he didn’t have to lug his gear across the country. The McAvoy’s made the trip to California again last month, with Charlie’s three sisters and mother also getting a chance to tour the Hurley factory before watching the Bruins sweep their set of games against the Ducks and Kings.
McAvoy’s dad also made his way up to Boston for the start of the 2018-19 campaign — while also getting a chance to surf at both Nahant and Nantasket beach, of course.
If they can’t make it to games, the McAvoy clan still rarely misses a chance to watch Charlie take to the ice, with his father admitting that he lost his voice for the better part of two days after his son’s OT winner against the Sharks back on Feb. 18.
McAvoy Sr. won’t be putting away his surfboard anytime soon. Last Sunday, with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees, he was taking a stroll down on the boardwalk to keep tabs on the potential surf for the day. He decided to hold off.
“Waves are small today,” he said. “Don’t think I’m going to go out. The bigger the better.”
His son’s surfing schedule is a bit more curtailed given his day job, but the love of the ocean is a building block of McAvoy’s identity — and it’s not wavered.
[caption id="attachment_493021" align="alignnone" width="1600"] McAvoy looks forward to the stretches of the summer when he can return home and catch the swell off of Long Beach, New York. (Photo courtesy of the McAvoy family)[/caption]
“I think Charlie really has a connection, especially growing up with it, you learn to love something, and you can always go back to it and get that serenity and peace from it,” McAvoy Sr. said. “He’ll do it until he can’t anymore. He’ll probably be surfing long after he’s done playing (pro) hockey. He can do it at his leisure at that point. I hope he plays hockey as long as possible and his surfing will always be there for him and I’m sure he’ll always been drawn to the ocean.”
At this point, it’s like riding a bike for McAvoy when the swell starts to pick up, and the messages ring true: Positioning. Balance. Patience. Paddle.
“Once you get better at that, you can start to surf those big ones,” the younger McAvoy said. “If you can’t get up and be in good position, then you’re not going to have a fun time out there.”
But whether it be dealing with ankle busters (small waves) or shooting through the barrel, the quality of the waves are secondary for McAvoy and his family whenever they are able to reunite — watching the hours drain away on that same stretch of beach where their respective love for the ocean all began.
“We love having him around,” McAvoy Sr. said. “Since he left to go to Ann Arbor and then over to BU, we don’t get a lot of time. After games, he’s rushing out of there to get to the hotel or get back home to get some rest. In the summertime, when he can get down to the beach and jump into the ocean, and be able to relax and have time with him, that’s the most important thing.
“We want to be around each other and enjoy it. Surfing gives us that opportunity. We get out there as a family and we all get in the water. Even if we’re just body surfing or surfing, it gives us a great bonding that we all love. It brings back a lot of memories back when he was a little guy.”