The damp Ramones t-shirt stuck to my skin with a mix of sun block, sweat and salt water that felt about as adhesive as wet cement. The noon sun beat down as I squinted, digging my oar into the crystal clear water and pulling hard.
It was no fucking use. We were moving in circles.
Sea kayaking. It’d seemed like a good idea that morning, eating breakfast on the wooden deck of our guesthouse on Kapas Island. The morning glistened, the sun whispered through the branches, the breeze tickled my shoulders. The kayaks lay upside down in the sand beneath us, like beached whales with scratched, plastic bellies.
I’d kayaked before, right? I scanned my memory. Nothing came up. But I had to have done it, like once or something. I’d been a peddle boat, that was for sure, a row boat in Golden Gate Park once too. Did I want to kayak over to the next island, Josh asked, and check out the sea turtles? Um, fuck yeah—how hard could that be?
So we overturned the white vessel, dragged it across the sand til it was bobbing on a thin layer of surf.
We stared down at it.
“Which way does it go?” I asked.
“The pointy side goes in front,” Josh declared with an authoritative nod. “Right?”
I shrugged. “I nominate you as the expert.”
We continued to stare down.
“Where do we sit?” I asked. There were three indentations; all three looked viably ass-sized.
We looked up at each other and laughed.
Here’s the thing: I’m an urban person. While that might sound sophisticated and exciting, what it actually means is that I have no real-life survival skills. Or outdoor skills. I don’t do “activities.” I don’t know how to pitch a tent, don’t know how to make fire, have had two unsuccessful attempts at horseback riding that both ended in me being thrown from said horses. I was afraid to swim in water I couldn’t see the bottom of until I was 13. I’d last about three minutes in The Hunger Games.
I sometimes try to comfort myself with the idea that I’ve gained other important skills, specific to my contemporary, technologically advanced environment and valuable to my survival in that context. That’s bullshit. I can navigate Metro systems and determine how long the wait will actually be in a restaurant. These are the things I have to contribute to the evolution and survival of our species. Sterilize me now.
Josh and I got into the kayak, seating ourselves in a way that felt only vaguely correct. The plastic dug into our backs, our legs wedged awkwardly in front of us.
“Okay, I’ll call it out,” Josh said over his shoulder.
We started to paddle, me struggling a couple beats behind Josh. We glided out and for the first 30 seconds I thought, Outdoor activity! This is gonna be fun!
Then we angled toward the rocks.
“Right!” Josh called. We dug in. “Right!” he called again. We dug in harder. “What the fuck, why aren’t we going right?” he shouted as the tip of the kayak scraped into the rock. At least it was the pointy tip.
We pushed off the rock and tried again. We couldn’t get the damn thing to go straight. It careened in different directions, succumbing finally to a sad little drain-pipe tailspin.
We placed our oars down and took a break. “What are we doing wrong?” I asked.
Josh shrugged. “I think it’s the kayak. Maybe it has one of those… what are they called? Rudders? Skegs?”
I blinked. “You’re asking the wrong girl, dude.”
Just then, a perky orange kayak appeared on the horizon. It gliding effortlessly through the water, oars moving with a bird-like synchronicity. We watched as it neared.
The two figures in the kayak began to take shape: life vests and hats, towels across their legs to protect from the sun. Ponytails. Thin little arms. They moved closer.
They were two 12-year-old girls.
“Oh fuck me,” Josh muttered.
They zoomed closer. He waved his arms. “Hey!” he called out. The girls looked over. “Hey, can you tell us what we’re doing wrong?”
The girls looked back at us. “What?”
“We keep moving in circles,” I shouted over. “How do you, like, go straight?”
They looked at each other and giggled. “I don’t know,” one answered, her voice a prepubescent squeal.
“Try rowing at the same time,” the other offered.
“Yeah, we’ve been doing that,” Josh answered.
The girls giggled again. “Sorry,” they said politely. “Good luck!” Someone had raised them well.
They gave a little wave and glided off, rowing in perfect unison, moving in a perfect line.
We took swigs of water, picked up our oars, and gave it another go. In a couple minutes, we were doing sea donuts again.
More boats of little girls kept passing us. Turns out they were a class from the American school in KL, on a field trip. They all smiled and waved, returning our limp, dehydrated flailing with effortless, enthusiastic little wrist flicks.
I watched their boats bob towards to horizon. “That’s fucked up,” I remarked.
“Ask em for a tow?” Josh suggested.
“Totally,” I laughed.
It took about an hour, but we finally made it the two kilometers to the next island. We moved like a double helix—acrobatic, really, like some Cirque du Soleil shit.
From up above, it might have been beautiful.