We bought a kayak for my birthday. I was bestowed with the honor of choosing our new toy. I listened to the salesman describe the many facets of kayak design: tracking, cargo capacity, skegs and rudders, maneuverability, stability. After much deliberation and consideration I chose by the only really important feature of every kayak: Color.
Ours is fire engine red with the yellow lightning bolt stripes that offered an illusion of racing through the water from the comfort and safety of the showroom carpet. Forget about water! In the cockpit above those yellow stripes, I was Speed Racer. I held onto the fiberglass sides and yelled "Yee-Ha."
The salesman was prattling on about safety, posture, self-righting moves and something else that he claimed was important. Oh, yeah. Paddling.
I watched the demonstration of the proper grip, angle and motion of paddling but I was slightly distracted by a pinching sensation in my lower back. I moved the foot pedals closer, raised my knees and pushed my rear end into the seat. "Are you supposed to be in pain?" I asked with a shrugging gesture that meant I was willing to accept this particular aspect of kayaking.
"Your seat is fully adjustable," the salesman said. He showed me how to slide the seat forward. Then, he reached between my thighs and grabbed a protruding nylon strap imprinted with arrows and hieroglyphics. "This adjusts the thigh pads." he tugged on the strap and my legs, with his hand resting between the thighs, lifted.
"When you paddle," he continued, "hold your body in the L position and use your torso as a hinge." He stood and turned, demonstrating. "Turn at the waist as you insert the paddle into the water at two o'clock, and rotate at the waist when the paddle reaches four o'clock." He looked like an overweight marionette. My husband attempted to mimic the motion, turning and twisting. I'd stopped listening. My left leg had gone numb.
We strapped the kayak to the top of the car and I flexed my glutes all the way home, encouraging circulation.
"Did you pay attention?" My husband asked. A ridiculous question.
We got home and carried the kayak to the water. "Go ahead," my husband said while holding the nose/bow. "Get in."
Get in? I bent over, gripped the side of the boat and lifted my leg like a dog ready to pee. A wave hoisted the kayak. "Careful!" he yelled as if that was helpful. Another swell nearly toppled us both. I lurched, heaving myself into the seat. My husband lost his grip and the boat began to float away.
"That was graceful." I heard him laugh. I was upside down with one leg flailing out over the water. I turned slowly, feeling the balance of the boat.
"Start scootching toward me and I'll hand you the paddle," he said.
Oh yeah, the paddle. I steadied myself and snatched the paddle from his extended arms. He was laughing. "What do you think so far?"
I gave him the finger.
A few minutes later, I found myself comfortably erect in the L position, moving my paddle at two and four, alone in the universe. The waves were amniotic: warm and rhythmic. I began to relax.
I was improperly prepared. I had no hat, carried no emergency whistle, wore no sunscreen and my life jacket was not yet zipped or belted. I'd lost one sneaker in the launch; the other was spongy with water. I paddled in silence, using my torso as a hinge, visualizing a slim waist and muscled shoulders with every stroke. Water coursed from the paddle onto my lap, saturating my jeans with salt water. As the daughter of a retired gynecologist, I knew better than to sit too long in wet clothes. But at that moment, I didn't care. I paddled near the rocks, watching a heron watching me.
"Is it my turn yet?" My husband yelled from shore like one of the Berenstain Bears. I lowered the paddle to the water, turning toward shore. My muscles were warm with effort.
Later, as we limped toward our bed, we agreed that the kayak was a good purchase despite my bruised sit bones and aching shoulders, and his inflamed sciatic nerve.
"Maybe we'll get good at it," he said while painting salve on his blistered palms.
Maybe we will.