“Ok. So, you need to look inside the hole, see the foot pedals? Adjust them so your thighs touch the top of your boat. The spray skirt is vel-cro’d around your waist then attached to the lip of that hole. Here’s your PFD.” He tightens the side and it makes me gasp a little. “This is your paddle, this is the front of it, the tear drop goes down into the water. The boast is a little tippy-use your hips to balance it out. It’ll feel normal once you’re in it”
And that my friends are the instructions to paddle a 17 ft, beautiful glass sea kayak.
I sit, attempt to put my legs inside the tiny hole and am rejected. I stand up. Attempt #2 I sit on top of the back rest, slide one leg in at a time and sit down. The spray skirt thingy is new. I’ve kayaked before. As a tourist before, in those lovely wide, non-tippy, plastic kayaks that even the uncoordinated can use. One of those times in Belize with my sisters, oh, that was interesting! Another time in Australia with my roomie, we hit sea size waves and decided it wasn’t for us. And the last time was in Guatemala on a volcano surrounded lake with good ole’ Anna! She fried herself into a level 2 sunburn, it was a serene lake until I saw her pretty red skin. No bueno. But all in all, fun trips.
The first time for real kayaking. In a nice boat, with a lovely PFD (fancy name for life jacket) and this spray skirt thingy. It’s supposed to keep water out of the inside, keep my legs dry. It’s almost shell-like, feels a bit like a seat belt in a way.
Tim helps me on shore and pushes me off. So far, so good. I’m buckled up, paddling, wiggling my hips and above the surface of the water! A+!
The water inside Copper Harbor was smooth and clear. It’s a part of Lake Superior, just blocked by a nice rock island from the outside of the worlds largest lake. We paddle directly across. I start feeling like an olympian – “yeah, this is a great sport.!” We head for open water. “To the big lake” Tim says. After he said that I felt like grunting, Tim the tool man Taylor style from Home Improvement (loved that show.) You know the sound, a huge grunt, the sound ‘tough but dumb.’
We ‘T’ up the waves in the big water. Waves are occasionally white capping. They’re huge to me. Maybe 10ft swells. Tim says “maybe 2 footers.” Not sure where he was looking. We make a valid attempt and decide the hurricane isn’t worth attempting and it’s best to turn around.
Turn around? A 17ft kayak and you want me to turn around in these tsunami waves? I felt like an olympian but I’m definitely NOT an olympian.
Paddle right, back left, oh shit, this isn’t good. I’m surfing. Rocks 20 yards ahead. Maybe go left. That’s not good, now my rear wont be ‘T’ing up waves but oh well, why not! (I was talking out loud to myself)
I attempt. And within that split second my ‘hip wiggling’ trick that Tim spoke of came and left me. Without success. A ginormous wave of 2 feet came up from my side, caught me, my beautiful borrowed, expensive, 17ft glass boat and tipped me head down into the chill of Lake Superior. I screamed “Tim” as I capsized. Remembering how hard it was to get in the boat, my body went into panic. ‘This is the worlds largest fresh-water lake and I’m the newest, greenest, kayaker in it. GET ME THE HELL ABOVE WATER.’ I broke out of that lovely spray skirt, no need for that being water-resistant now! I came to the surface gasping, in shock, maybe spending a whopping 1/4 of a second below!
Instincts kick in. Tread water. Flip over kayak. Look at rocks. Ask Tim “what do I do now?” As this getting back in the boat thing wasn’t a part of his ‘pre-boarding safety talk.’
He’s to my left. 15 yards away. He yells “put your stomach over the hole, then somehow flip yourself over and slide inside.” HA! I couldn’t do this on land, and now in the middle of the rocking water?!
The tsunami waves continue to eat me and my boat. This lay, flip and enter boat trick seems complicated. I try, and end up diving head first back into the deep chill of Lake Superior for the second time. Now, I’m tired and a little scared. Alive, but a little scared. I don’t even feel the cold, my body heat from adrenaline is close to 100 degrees. The waves keep crashing. I attempt the belly flop again and fail. Coming to the conclusion that I’ll have to swim my 17ft’r to shore. I call to Tim “can you pull me?” He’s kept his distance this entire time, smart man. Not getting himself into trouble is best at this point. He gives me a tow. My boat flips again. I let go of his. Re-flip my boat, it’s taking on water. I continue swimming. I LOVE MY LIFE JACKET! Occasionally my sandals rub rocks below, giving me a chance to stand and rest. Tim paddles close again and tows me to shore. We pull the boats up and out of the water.
I look down and see my broken, loved, pink sunglasses dangling sadly. Carnage from the big lake escapade. My body is shaking, residue from the adrenaline. I laugh. Tim apologizes. Unsure why he’s sorry, I’m the idiot wanna be olympian 1st time kayaker!
I lay on the warm, warn rocks along the bank of the north side of the harbor. Knowing I’m lucky, I get to get back in the kayak to get back to our landing spot!
My spray skirt has become only a skirt, it clung tightly to me after I broke away from the kayak under water. My PFD, my newest favorite garment. Those big 2 ft waves – humbilizers.
We finish our paddle in calmer water of the harbor, cutting through the glass like water like the most natural habitants do. We look for splake and other fish before, seeing only sand, rocks and a few logs. Clear 10-15 feet below us, the water is incredible.
We reach shore and our exit from the lake and I have to ask Tim “how do I properly exit the kayak? I haven’t done that yet!”
Serious-fun! Happy to be alive!