Last weekend I summoned up the energy to haul my boat up to Crescent City for a surf zone class led by Mike Zeppegno and John Day. Wearing a collection of owned and borrowed equipment to keep the bay at bay, I plunged into the waves and tried to keep my kayak from turning upside down. I was periodically successful. Fortunately, none of these photos show me ignominiously thrashing in the drink. I got really cold in spite of all the rubber and GORE-TEXÂ® swaddling me.
I actually had a similar class in bigger surf about 5 years ago. Mike and I reminisced as he was in the class as well. Thought I did better then. Still, I hadn’t been in much surf since. But it was fun this time, too! Honest! And I will do it again.
Movement on Still Water
The equipment thing is a huge hassle. First, of course, are the boats themselves. I understand there is a new contraption that lifts your boats to the top of your vehicle, but I still hoist mine on the rack with my arms and back, tip them on their sides then have to climb up on the truck tires to get the straps over the boat and cinch it down. Then there are the paddles,Â life jacket, water bottle, spray skirt, water pump, spare paddles, paddle jacket, hat, sunglasses, sun screen, whistle, tow rope, paddle float, floatation bag, dry bag, emergency kit, wet suit, booties, helmet if Iâ€™m going in the surf or into the rocks, have I forgotten something? I am sure I have. I usually discover what that is once Iâ€™ve unloaded the boat and all this crap at the edge of the water. Oh yeah, water. To put in the water bottle. Duh.
So, then after paddling a few hours I load all this stuff back up, drive home, unload it, but I have to wash it all down and dry it before I can store it way in my cluttered garage in such a way that maybe next time I will remember everything because itâ€™s all right there in one neat pile.
And the cost! All of this equipment costs a bundle. And there is plenty more I could buy. Or upgrade. I really should get that new boat. Boat envy is a terrible thing as I stand on the beach at Trinidad Head gazing at the gleaming sleek, brightly colored kayaks next to my battered, dull blue plastic boat. Or maybe I should finally move from my barely protective farmer john wet suit to a dry suit like the cool kayakers have and feel good about sloshing in the icy waters of the north coast like seal.
But finally, at some point, I put aside all these thoughts and waddle my equipment burdened body toward my boat, gingerly climb in, being careful not to tip it on its side, find the foot pedals, strain to stretch the elasticized spray skirt over the cockpit and then, like a beached seal, hump my way across the sand into the water…at last.
As I paddle out in to the bay, cutting through waves into open water, all of the clatter and bustle of preparation disappears. The lumbering awkwardness gives way to fluid motion. I am suddenly immersed in ocean life, the smell of the sea, the huff of the wind, gull cries, seal barks, the eternal rise and fall of the swells touches something deep and primordial inside me.
Iâ€™ve paddled into huge rising flocks of geese whose wing beats sounded like the distant hooves of wildebeast on an African plain. I have paddled in deep mountain lakes so still that each slow stroke felt like shattering glass. I have ridden surf into a beach that so lightly demonstrated the immense power of the ocean I screamed with exhilaration. I have paddled around sea stacks and rocks covered with tiny birds that rise up and angle across the sky as one mind and past white beaches darkened by fat lolling bodies of herd of seals.
So it is that each time I finally make it on to the water, whether itâ€™s the ocean, a bay, a slough, a lake, or a lagoon, I remember why I put up with all the work, the expense, the doubt, the pain that goes in to sea kayaking. When I finally make it on to the water I remember the inner peace and strength that comes with being so immersed in that water world. And I wonder, as I struggle out of the boat and back on to land if I can carryÂ enough of that memory alive inside me to push me through the whole cycle again some time soon. Very soon.