“Okay, we’ll stop here.”
I let the fins of my kayak paddles rest against the smooth ocean, just as my right shoulder was reaching its throbbing limit. I was relieved I wouldn’t have to ask for a break; when I told David I had kayaked before, I had failed to say that “before” meant five or six years ago.
I wondered what effect the shoulder throb imbalance would have on the following morning.
We were in a smooth patch of sea in a two-man kayak, resting between swells, waiting for David to identify a wave carrying enough potential to launch us along. The sea in question was the Tasman Sea and the kayak in question belonged to a couple I was bunking with for a week, exchanging my gardening, cleaning, baking, and eager company for a room above the sea, and plenty of fresh fish and garden salad to go around.
If David Marshall asks if you would like to go on an adventure, you put down Wendall Barry’s Our Only World and you wash out the cold bits of earl grey at the bottom of the clay mug that Jess made when she was eight, and you squelch yourself inside a damp wetsuit, and you help David Marshall latch the dusty kayak to the back of the tractor with a gnarled rope. You then climb aboard the wooden platform attached to the tractor, clench your fingers around the metal railing, and, as David Marshall drives, you feel in your palms the soles of your feet rise off the wooden platform and you feel in your ears the wind swishing your ponytail.
That’s what you do.
And that’s what I did.
The black sand beach was nearly empty, save a distant mother trying to pry her shadow child off a piece of shipwreck in the low tide. It was a bizarre thing about this stretch of Taranaki, that this beautiful, black sand rockless place was nearly devoid of tourists. It was the first time in New Zealand I felt absolutely local.
This was the kind of place where David and Nuala played “let’s guess how many drivers we’ll recognize between here and the Ranui Street stop light” on the way to the local Maori marae for an outdoor community concert.
The place where, when shopping with David for an impending catering at the villas, I found myself saying hello and hugging the vast majority of the market employees.
To now be here, in the sea, surfing—which I had only been privy to once, in Taghazout, and which ended in ingesting a lung full of dirty ocean water and spending the evening vomiting it up, whilst all of my hostel counterparts were dizzying themselves silly with sugary port and eventually commencing in very loud sexual energy of sorts, which, being in the state I was and in the corner location for the bulk of the night, I was privy to as well—
and not only surfing, but surfing in a kayak, of all floating objects;
This was far out.
“Here she is.”
I twisted, and saw her. Peeling away along the right, a rolling, lunging, bellowing sort of ocean monster swelling from the depths, waiting, biding her time before she opened her mouth to swallow us, and before, hopefully, we emerged on top, her energy rocketing our kayak up and beyond.
“Okay, start paddling,” said David. He used his paddle to rotate the kayak into position. My shoulder throbbing had subsided, and finding myself wrapped in the rising energy of the waves, I shot my paddles into the ocean.
“Gentle—gentle—“ he said, his voice tossing in the wind. I paddled, paddled, soft.
“Okay, here we go—” I increased my cadence. I begin to flick my paddles, flick the ocean, the water droplets running down my hair and swirling around my mouth, making my lips taste salty and chilled.
The salt water flicked, my feet pushed against the plastic rim of the kayak—
I flicked harder, the throb coming up, I watched the water in front of me rise, slightly, up and up—
“Ok! Ok, now! Now!”
Throbbing shoulders, I dunked and dunked and twisted and dunked, the water rising—
“Paddle! Paddle! Paddle! PADDLE!”
I stuck my paddles deep into the ocean, shoulders throbbing, dunking, twisting, rising—
“NOW! NOW! HARD! NOW!”
And yes—YES! We were soaring! We were launching! My paddles couldn’t reach the ocean now, we were riding! Surfing, they called this! Living, I said! Breathing, wild ocean waves, salty lips and plastered hair across my forehead, no throbs now only this vessel, riding, gliding towards the right—
“Wooooooo!” David shouted, and I imagined him raising his kayak paddle high like a tuscan raider, bellowing, wild.
“Wooooooo!” I echoed, almost daring to raise my paddle high. Our kayak bounced, I saw the white lips of the wave splash my hands, we were gliding and soaring and then—
The lip of the kayak caught the wave and ducked, spilling its contents. I felt water slam my face, felt the body of the kayak graze my back, I felt a thin rod in my hand and I clutched, tight, determined to hold on to the paddle for all its worth. The great energy of the wave rolled me twice, and I swatted at it with the paddle I gripped with death in my hands, the swatting coming almost to naught, but to disrupt my forward motion enough to twist to the left.
I flung my head out of the water, and took a great breath. I blinked, hard, and all systems restored. I laughed.
The wave, nearly to the shore now, I couldn’t see the green kayak. I had my paddle still. What a ride!
David emerged with a breath to my left.
“Gnarly!” he shrieked, and raised his paddle. I saluted him with mine, and my eyes found the green kayak, making perch on the edge of the shore.
“Yeah! YES! WOOOO!”
Holding my paddle between my legs, I swam like I imagined I could fly, broomstick in tow. It was ineffective to say the least, but in the energy and swell of the waves around me, I couldn’t help myself. More than my shoulders throbbed as I made my way to the shore, not being a quality swimmer, but full of energy.
David paddled beside me, slow, for my sake, and to keep an eye on his ward.
It took ten minutes of twisting and swishing in the waves before we reached our kayak. David grabbed hold of the back handle, and turned it so I could grab the front.
He looked at me. I looked at him.
He looked at his paddle.
I looked at mine.